County approves plan for fairgrounds


By Martin Kidston

After years of deliberation and negotiations, the Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday adopted a master plan for the Missoula County Fairgrounds, setting the stage for future redevelopment of the urban property.

As presented, the final plan includes 1,350 developed parking spaces, concession booths and an expansive livestock center offering 144,000 square feet.

“We want folks to feel welcome on the grounds,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s COO. “There was quite a bit of work to determine where buildings should go and where the orientation should be. We tried to accommodate as many of the changes as we could.”

The vision includes a 22,000-square-foot learning center surrounded by three acres of garden space. The livestock center has grown in concept to 144,000 square feet and includes an indoor riding arena and 190 outdoor horse stalls.

Other buildings envisioned in the plan include a 4-acre rodeo arena with seating for more than 3,000 people, and a 30,000-square-foot exhibit building with 336 parking spaces.

“The orientation of the building would be toward Russell Street,” said Paul Filicetti of A&E Architects, who has redesigned the project several times based on public feedback. “It would be a focal point on that street.”

While no funding mechanism was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners praised the revised plan for incorporating the concerns brought forward earlier this year by both the public and members of the Missoula City Council.

Among them, the council urged the county and the project’s visionaries to give stronger consideration to the surrounding landscape, and to ensure the fairgrounds blended into neighboring city parks and trails, along with anticipated growth in the Midtown district.

To accommodate that, Filicetti said, the new plan realigns the property’s entry off Russell Street to align with Fairview Avenue. It also sets Glacier Ice Rink further off the intersection of South Avenue, where a future roundabout has been discussed.

All told, the project includes an abundance of surface parking, though a vision for future stacked parking has vanished from the plan. The finish line for the existing horse track would be memorialized as a focal point in a network of pedestrian trails.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “It’s come out really well and I’m really proud of it.”

Under the approved plan, ice sports would occupy roughly 7 acres, including three sheets of ice in a 137,000-square-foot building. The main ice sheet would provide seating for 2,200 people. The building sits roughly 50 feet off South Avenue.

Jil Dunn, president of the Missoula Figure Skating Club, said the fairgrounds feasibility study concluded that ice sports was a growing activity that long ago outgrew the current facility.

While ice users support the addition of a third sheet, Dunn added, they are withholding support for the project until certain issues are addressed, including the facility’s governing structure.

“The governing entity over the new facilities must represent the broad community of ice users while being small enough to be an efficient working board,” Dunn said.

“If the governing entity of a new facility does not include representation by all major users, we are concerned that this major public investment will not deliver broad benefits, including accessibility and affordability to the greater community.”


Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com