Economic leaders remain hopeful that redevelopment plans for several blocks of downtown Missoula will continue to move forward and find new investors to carry the banner – and the existing plans – to construction.
Clark Fork Riverfront Properties in August called off its plans to develop a hotel and events center on a portion of the Riverfront Triangle in downtown Missoula, citing the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The development contract came with a late November deadline, at which time Clark Fork Riverfront Properties was to have applied for a building permit with approved plans and drawings.
But the contract also offered the possibility of an extension, and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the city would like to give the project more time, saying development interest remains high. That could net a new developer interested in moving the project forward.
“There is interest in Missoula, not just in that site, but others, and that might pick up,” said Chris Behan, executive director of MRA. “There’s lots of ways we can move forward with flexibility, and hopefully the private sector and their private partners can be as creative as possible.”
Clark Fork Riverfront Properties received the exclusive development rights to the project from Fox Hotel Partners in 2019. Over the ensuing months, it brought the proposed hotel and events center, and an underlying parking garage, to the point of construction before the pandemic hit.
With elements of the project so advanced, the design in place and the contracts with the city secure, MRA believes other opportunities may arise if no drastic measures are taken until the economy recovers.
“They put a huge amount into design and thinking into what that site could become, and that would certainly be useful to someone in the future should they chose to work with them in terms of acquiring the design,” said Behan. “Rather than start everything all over again, maybe we ought to see how things play out here in the short term and see if we can find a better way forward than starting over again at Ground Zero.”
Ellen Buchanan, director of MRA, has been touch with Clark Fork Riverfront Properties, and while the developer is no longer interested in taking a lead on the project, she said other opportunities exist.
“I don’t think anyone is pushing right now to void or modify the legal agreements, but to try and be a little patient to see what the future holds and what’s out there,” Buchanan said. “We’re fortunate, I believe, in being able to be patient right now and see what the future holds, and see who steps forward that might have an interest in doing something with that property.”
Grant Kier, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership, said his organization is working to promote the various development opportunities around Missoula. Interest among investors and developers is high, he said.
MEP has been in touch with at least one developer who is capable of “doing projects on the scale of the Riverfront Triangle,” Kier said, adding that developers and investors remain “quite bullish on Missoula.”
The Riverfront Triangle includes a collection of parcels on several blocks of downtown Missoula, and they’ve been eyed for redevelopment for years. On Monday night, the Missoula City Council approved the rezone of one Riverfront parcel, where a developer has plans for a commercial and housing project several stories tall.
The project is one of several reasons MEP and MRA remain optimistic.
“It looks like the project we thought was the tail of the (Riverfront Triangle) project may actually be the nose,” Behan said. “That may keep that interest alive in that area and may show the things that may be able to happen down there. It looks like a very well designed proposal.”
Hotel Fox Partners relinquished its development rights for the hotel and events center to Clark Fork Riverfront Properties last October, clearing its plate to focus on other aspects of the project slated for the Riverfront Triangle, including housing, commercial and office space.
The group changed its name to Riverfront Triangle Partners and was ready to move forward on its portion of the development when the pandemic hit. It has placed several parcels on the real estate market, hoping to net a partner in the development.
“They had worked with a group out of Seattle to do some planning and design that was really creative,” Behan said. “But it’s been put on hold. They’ve received interest from folks out of state interested in pushing that project forward.”
While the projects are temporarily stalled and the November deadline for the hotel and events center contract is fast approaching, MRA would like to explore a possible extension. But members of the MRA board expressed concern, saying that with Clark Fork Riverfront Properties apparently out of the picture, there’s no one to extend the deadline to.
“In order to extend the deadline, we need to have a party to whom we’re extending that deadline,” said board member Tasha Jones. “I’m all for remaining patient and being hopeful that in the next two months someone steps forward that might be willing to step into the development shoes as they currently exist.
“But I don’t think we can unilaterally extend the deadline for that contract when we know the (developer) on the other side of that contract is not interested in proceeding.”