MRA to limit corporate architecture in facade projects

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An architectural rendering of the Lucky Diamond expansion and renovation project at Brooks and Reserve streets in Missoula. (Photo courtesy of MRA)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of directors agreed to contribute funding to help a south Missoula business update its facade, though it also amended its requirements to prevent future projects from including corporate architecture when making exterior improvements.

At its annual meeting Wednesday, the board authorized Lucky Diamond to proceed with a building expansion on the corner of Brooks and Reserve streets. As part of the project, MRA will provide up to $52,000 in tax increment financing to cover a portion of the facade improvement costs.

The funding is available through the city’s facade improvement program in Urban Renewal District III, which includes Midtown and much of the Brooks Street corridor.

“The footprint of the building will more than double,” said Chris Behan, executive director of MRA. “Doubling the footprint will double the tax bill. Expanding the building is where additional tax increment will come from.”

Lucky Diamond plans to add 3,146 square feet to its existing building, which currently serves as a casino and packaged liquor store. The $600,000 expansion will house at least one additional business.

Behan said the improvements blend well with the style used throughout the neighboring South Crossing project. The Woodbury Corporation razed the former Kmart store and redeveloped the 12-acre property to include a dozen new businesses, including several restaurants.

“What you’re seeing in terms of this (Lucky Diamond) design is their attempt to provide some additional lease space,” said Vince Gavin with Gavin Hanks Architects. “Part of Lucky Diamond’s effort is to improve the building and make it more welcoming to the public, and to feed off the success of the South Crossing businesses.”

The board authorized developers to proceed without prejudice. Final approval is contingent upon the chosen sign package and facade materials.

While the city’s facade improvement program has benefited several businesses within the Brooks Street corridor in recent years, the board is looking to hone the program’s qualifications, just as the Missoula City Council looks to sharpen commercial design standards.

Recent projects, including the Cellular Plus store on East Broadway and Autozone on South Third Street, remain a sore spot for both city leaders and MRA. Several newly elected City Council members campaigned last year on the need for updated design standards.

MRA has worked to address the issue on its end as well. On Wednesday, the board also adopted several recommended changes outlining the design criteria for projects that qualify for assistance under the facade improvement program.

“We would not consider a project that creates a facade that basically becomes a corporate logo,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “We are becoming more and more of a destination for those types of business, those types of buildings, and they don’t have to look that way.”

While the board struck a recommendation limiting primary colors to trim and accent features, it included language aimed at corporate architecture. It also adopted guidelines noting that signs, while reviewed as part of the facade program, don’t qualify for reimbursement.

Changes also require facade improvements to enhance the pedestrian environment. MRA said such guidelines have been successful in regulations guiding new construction in other cities.

“The same principals should apply to facade improvement assistance,” Buchanan said.

The board also extended the facade improvement program to Urban Renewal District II, though it limited the qualifying amount to 20 percent of the project’s total cost. The amount in URD III is currently 25 percent.