MEP optimistic about outreach to developers keen on key Missoula properties

Grant Kier, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership, left, and Joe Easton with Jackson Contracting Group, celebrate the groundbreaking for High County’s new 69,000 square foot Coca-Cola bottling facility in this file photo. Kier on Friday said interest among developers in Missoula is high. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Despite the impacts of COVID-19, the Missoula Economic Partnership continues to showcase areas of Missoula prime for redevelopment, though it has taken a more strategic approach in assessing opportunities out in the private sector.

And the efforts appear to be paying off.

Grant Kier, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the agency’s website will become the primary vehicle for some of the city’s marketing work. He said interest in the city’s Opportunity Zone remains high, though the investment benefits expire at the end of this year.

“Some of these investors that we know are interested in putting money into Missoula are specifically interested in using this Opportunity Zone tool,” Kier said on Monday. “If we don’t have a project site ready by Dec. 31 to place into a fund and meet the deadline, we may miss that opportunity. For us, that deadline is a real and important one.”

The Trump administration included opportunity zones in the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term private investment in low-income census tracts. The program itself provides tax incentives to those who invest in opportunity funds.

Keir said a number of regional and national investors have expressed interest in the city’s Opportunity Zone, which extends down West Broadway and includes a portion of the North and Westside neighborhoods, including city-owned property off Scott Street and the Sleepy Inn.

MEP is currently conducting a site and utility evaluation for the Scott Street property to help with its outreach efforts. Housing and other mixed-used opportunities have been eyed for the site.

“We’re looking at what can be achieved based on the infrastructure and site conditions and what would need to change,” Kier said. “The goal there is to answer that first order set of questions.”

MEP also is working to showcase other development opportunities around the city, including the old Library Block and the Riverfront Triangle. Both hold high potential for downtown redevelopment, and a number of potential developers have expressed interest, Kier said.

“Developers and investors here and also across the region, and even the country, are quite bullish on Missoula,” Kier said, citing one large developer based in the West.

“This is a developer who has a strong track record for doing projects on the scale of the Riverfront Triangle, and a strong track record of working with public agencies and communities to develop really exciting mixed-use projects, both affordable and market rate housing on the scale our community is in desperate need of.”

As MEP distributes information to potential developers and investors, the feedback has been positive, Kier said. He called the connections promising and believes they may lead to future investment and redevelopment.

“It puts us in a good position to start doing some detailed work with the city and Missoula Redevelopment Agency staff and start talking about the specifics of what these sites could look like, and what kind of deal structures need to happen between the city, MRA and these developers to get the kind of accomplishment we want to see in these projects to make them real wins over the long term,” he said.

Kier said MEP applied for and received a $25,000 grant to help MRA plan the future of the Library Block. MEP also has applied for a second $25,000 grant to help MRA plan the West Broadway corridor, in particular the Sleepy Inn property.