Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After recruiting a number of development teams interested in the old library block in downtown Missoula, the city has narrowed the field to one and plans to announce it next month.

On Thursday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency approved a contract extension with the Missoula Economic Partnership and its work in vetting redevelopment partners for a number of city-owned properties.

The contract was first approved last year and directed MEP to recruit and assess development teams interested and capable of redeveloping the old library block. The property was donated to the city by the Payne Family in 2019 when the new library was under construction.

“The city interviewed those six teams and is recommending moving forward with one team that aligns really well with the city's goals and the Downtown Master Plan,” said Annie Gorski, deputy director at MRA. “We'll introduce that team to the City Council in July.”

Gorski said the teams were asked to detail their experience related to a number of housing types. They were also asked to present a concept for the property, or a process they'd recommend for development.

“MEP highlighted the city's interest in seeing a mixed-use project that includes a variety of housing types,” Gorski said.

The city owns a number of other properties including the old Sleepy Inn site, which is currently up for sale, and several across off Scott Street, where a development team plans to construct several hundred housing units, including 70 deed restricted condominiums and townhomes.

The city also purchased property in the Midtown area from Montana Rail Link. Roughly half the property has been converted to a park while the other half includes a number of lots and buildings. One of those buildings has been used each of the last two winters as an emergency shelter.

The city plans to reopen the shelter this year for potential year-round use. That could delay any effort to redevelop the property – something area residents were looking forward to.

“We have to determine the future of that shelter. There are other things that are being looked at for that area, but right now, that's the biggest piece that still needs to be worked out,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “We have to determine what we're going to do with the population that's being served by that shelter.”

Even if the city reopens the shelter this year, it hasn't said it would become a permanent location for a second shelter. That decision will likely come in the next year and the city is exploring other options.

Julie Lacey, the economic development director at MEP, said the development teams recruited to explore opportunities at the old library site could be interested in other partnerships with the city at other properties.

“Throughout this process, we were able to build relationships with these teams,” said Lacey. “It created more capacity on our end to continue those relationships with development teams that already have an interest in Missoula. There's the potential to line those groups up on other opportunities as they present themselves.”