West Broadway plan looks to housing, retail in transition to downtown gateway

The West Broadway Master Plan nearing final adoption lays out a vision for the corridor, including 15 acres of underdeveloped land along the Clark Fork River. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Crafted from what planners describe as “big ideas,” the final draft of the city’s West Broadway Master Plan is making its way through various channels in route to final adoption this year, setting a lofty benchmark for what the dilapidated corridor could become.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of commissioners this week signed off on the document and the Missoula City Council got its first look at the final draft. The two-year project is inching toward conclusion.

“This plan provides more specific guidance on what this area can be to provide guidance to private and public investment,” said Rob Platkowski with Dover, Kohl and Partners, the consultants retained by the city to development plan. “It’s a starting point for conversations.”

The plan covers roughly 15 acres along West Broadway and sits in both an opportunity zone and an urban renewal district. The area was considered in the Downtown Master Plan as well with a focus on housing, retail, restaurants and improved transportation options.

But the new plan takes a deeper look at the area and makes more specific recommendations. As the draft suggests, the area is “uniquely positioned to become a great new neighborhood center” and “gateway to downtown.”

“This is beginning to get into the urbanized downtown area,” said Annette Marchesseault with MRA. “The recommendation is that this becomes more of a gateway experience to the downtown area.”

A rendering of a portion of the planned development.

Wide public engagement overwhelmingly agreed through surveys and polls that elements in the master plan would mark an improvement over current conditions. The planning area is underdeveloped and holds the potential to accommodate new redevelopment that makes better use of the urban core while respecting the presence of private businesses.

“While the plan proposes long-term changes to the area, it’s up to those individual property owners and business whether or not they want to change,” said Platkowski. “The plan provides tools and opportunities for them to do so if they want to.”

As proposed, the plan calls for roughly 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and around 15,000 square feet of office space. On the housing front, it looks to provide around 130 market-rate townhomes and apartments, and around 70 affordable housing units targeted to a range incomes.

“The plan isn’t going to solve the affordability issues in Missoula, but the hope is that it could take steps in the right direction and provide guidance for other similar projects,” said Platkowski, adding that the plan proposes a range of housing strategies. “They’re meant as recommendations to use to create permanently affordable housing.”

A rendering of the vision for the planning area, including the “long green” heading down to the river.

Many of the plan’s housing strategies aren’t new to Missoula, and some are growing in popularity and use, including reduced parking requirements in exchange for affordable housing, and tools that could minimize impact fees.

Planners said Low Income Housing Tax Credits could come into play, along with tax increment financing, New Market Tax Credits, and the city’s new Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“The plan recognizes that the cost of housing has increased exponentially, and it offers some strategies to address that through this master plan,” said Marchesseault. “This planning area isn’t going to solve the issue, but it can provide some strategies to at least make a dent.”

The plan also turns an eye to the Clark Fork River which, in some parts of the city, has been neglected through poor development patterns. The plan proposes an extension of city trails along the river and “a long green” leading from West Broadway to the river. The green would pass through a corridor of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating, plazas and open public spaces.

A chapter of the plan also looks to improvements on West Broadway, making it easier for residents living north of the corridor to cross and find their way to the river. Intersection improvements are suggested, along with a transit hub, bike lanes and safer pedestrian routes.

“This plan provides a vision for what the city and community would like to see in the redevelopment of west Broadway through the Montana Department of Transportation,” said Platkowski. “This vision is something that will require coordination and ongoing negotiation, but it provides a template and further support for the city’s desired (outcome).”

The City of Missoula already owns two properties within the planning area, which will give the vision a head start when the parcels are redeveloped in accordance to the plan’s vision.

While planners acknowledge that it could take years for the area to evolve, the vision may have a head start given that the city owns several properties within the planning area. That includes the Sleepy Inn property and Missoula Water, both of which will be redeveloped in accordance to the plan’s vision.

Those efforts would likely involve a public-private partnership and give the city a voice in the project’s final outcome.

“It’s exciting to have a master plan for a district where we control so much land in,” said City Council member Jordan Hess. “As the Sleepy Inn site is redeveloped and the Missoula Water site, there’s a great opportunity to be a leader as the city in all our goals in this area.”