Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula Economic Partnership will spend the next year identifying and vetting potential partners to redevelop several key properties across the city, and to support business growth and retention in two vital corridors.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency's Board of Commissioners last week approved the $25,000 contract with MEP and said past agreements with the organization netted positive outcomes.

“We can sit back and let things come to us and be reactive or we can go seeking those projects and partners that really align with our goals,” said MRA board member Tasha Jones. “I think this is the more responsible approach to make sure these projects represent our best opportunities.”

In 2019, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency approved a $50,000 contract with MEP to identify partners for the redevelopment of certain sites within the city's opportunity zone. The zones were established by the Trump administration in 2017 to encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities.

The contract granted to MEP enabled the organization to scout potential development partners – a task that brought Ravara LLC to Missoula. The company has partnered with the city to develop 9 acres of city-owned property off Scott Street into both market-rate and permanently affordable housing.

The new contract will see MEP carry out a similar task focused largely on three properties including the old library block downtown, the Missoula Water site off West Broadway and property off Johnson Street near MRL Park.

“That work is primarily about going out and developing a clear presentation of what the city's goals are, what the sites are, and conducting outreach to developers and development partners to identify folks who are interested in pursuing those goals,” said MEP President Grant Kier.

The work will also reveal any barriers to developing the properties and lead to solutions. MEP will conduct due diligence and help clarify the land-use permissions, and analysis on zoning and infrastructure.

The outreach conducted by MEP could also introduce new businesses to Missoula. The contract calls for MEP to conduct “targeted business retention, expansion and development opportunities” in both the North Reserve-Scott Street Urban Renewal District and the Hellgate district – primarily the MonTECH property.

“In the North Reserve-Scott Street district, we're constrained given the amount of urban renewal funding that's currently going to support housing in that area,” said Annie Gorski, the deputy director at MRA. “It's important to grow increment there so we can continue to fund those (housing) projects.”

MRA also believes that by having MEP vet potential developers, any future project will better align with the city's goals as detailed in a number of plans.

“Once we move forward with the old library block, there's going to be a lot of interest in that,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “The advantage we get from this relationship is that those interested parties will be vetted through MEP.”