Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Work on a mixed-use project in the Midtown district is set to begin this summer as the developer begins prepping the site for what's expected to include around 200 new housing units.

Dubbed the 406 Commons, the project has been in the works for years, going back to 2021 when Patrick Lawler began seeking a partner to assist in the proposal at Bow and Kent streets on the old Red Willow property.

“We'd like to be able to deconstruct buildings in the next few months,” said Colin Lane with MMW Architects. “We'd anticipate having the plan ready around that time. That would be the soonest, maybe late summer.”

The development team went before the Missoula Redevelopment Agency's board of commissioners on Thursday as a first step in receiving tax increment to aid in the project. If approved at a later date, the funding would help cover improvements in the public right of way and some costs associated with deconstructing two buildings on the property.

The board granted the team a “proceed without prejudice” on Thursday, meaning work on the property can begin and qualifies for reimbursement under state law once the project reaches a certain point. Final approval for tax increment will take place later this year.

“Because construction is tight, they'd like to proceed with removing the buildings while they have a contractor lined up,” said Annette Marchesseault with MRA. “They'd like to come back to the board as soon as we can get our working group and policy about housing established.

An early rendering of the proposed project.
An early rendering of the proposed project.

With a change in state law regarding workforce housing, MRA last year convened a working group to determine how it may apply tax increment financing to certain projects.

The term workforce housing hasn't been fully defined just yet and remains something the working group is attempting to resolve. But the allowance in the new law will enable MRA to create a new program around housing projects that qualify for tax increment assistance.

The 406 Commons project could be among the first in Missoula to capitalize off the program.

“They're having ongoing conversation about potential assistance with workforce housing. Our working group is working on a policy on that, but isn't quite there yet,” said Marchesseault.

While details weren't discussed this week, the development team has hinted at its plans for the property. MRA said the development would include roughly 200 housing units with ground-floor retail. It would sit in the Midtown district two blocks off Brooks Street, where Mountain Line has plans for a bus rapid-transit line.

Once deconstruction is completed and the site cleared, MRA believes it will have a workforce housing policy in place. At that point in time, the development team will likely submit a full request to MRA for assistance.

“The ball is in our court as we're trying to work through a policy on assisting with workforce housing,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “That's going to drive decisions around the project.”