Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After years of waiting for the private market to redevelop 10 prime acres of real estate near Southgate Mall, the City of Missoula may look at buying the property and redeveloping it on its own.

It wouldn't be the first time the city has invested in land to help build housing and other amenities. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week will consider funding the cost of due diligence as the city explores its options.

“This allows MRA and the city to determine the feasibility of purchasing this property and, if purchased, control the redevelopment in a way that meets the city's goals for Midtown and the urban core of Missoula,” MRA noted in a memo.

The property sits behind Bob Wards near Southgate Mall and has been eyed for housing for the past 20 years. A number of city plans have identified the property as underutilized and having high redevelopment potential.

The property contains several lots but lacks municipal services. It's currently owned by Southgate Mall Associates LLC and a combination of Beach Land and S.R. Beach Development LLCs.

“After almost 20 years of trying to incentivize the development of this property, the current two owners have offered to sell it to the city,” MRA said. “There are over 10 acres of developable land in a prime Midtown location which can provide housing, a new park, employment and a new connection between South Avenue and Brooks Street.”

A previous concept for the property.
A previous concept for the property.

The property sits in Urban Renewal District III and is loosely described as being part of the Southgate Triangle. The Midtown plan envisions a wide range of uses for the property including residential, office, retail and dining.

A plan conducted in 2003 envisioned something of a town center built around walkable streets and plazas. Early concepts also envisioned a neighborhood grocery, senior living, townhouses and a transfer center. The property abuts the Bitterroot Branch Trail.

“We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to facilitate redevelopment with the current property owners,” MRA said. “There is no infrastructure available to these parcels and it is very apparent that all of the properties benefit if they are developed jointly.”

The city has adopted a number of plans for the area including the Midtown Master Plan, which calls for denser infill near existing services, and the Brooks Street plan, which guides the corridor's conversion into a bus rapid-transit route.

The city also contracted the Urban Land Institute to provide a more in-depth analysis of both the challenges and opportunities in Midtown. A lack of housing, services, walkability and the barrier that is Brooks Street have emerged among the top issues.

“This is where the panel believes that the most intense development in Midtown Missoula should occur,” the Urban Land Institute wrote of the property being considered for purchase.

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MRA will consider spending $75,000 to complete due diligence on the property before a purchase decision is made. If so, it would represent the latest step in the city's land-banking strategy to facilitate a range of housing types, prices and other neighborhood amenities.

A similar 9-acre parcel of Scott Street will hold a groundbreaking ceremony this week. That project will include 46 for-sale workforce housing units, 43 market rate townhomes and around 225 rental units.