Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week said it remains committed to funding priority projects in a key redevelopment district that's scheduled to sunset in nine years, including housing and infrastructure.

Working with members of the City Council and city staff, the agency earlier this year released its top goals for Urban Renewal District II. It will likely ask the city to bond some of the work to ensure it's completed prior to 2031.

“We have a 10-year exit strategy,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of MRA. “We have seven top priorities that have been identified.”

The district encompasses the West Broadway corridor, the Old Sawmill District and the central neighborhood. With only nine years remaining before the district ends, the city is looking to complete the area's network of sidewalks and water mains.

Much of the sidewalk work that's been completed in the area was done using tax increment as a tool while not assessing the properties that benefited from the work. But sidewalks and water mains are costly and remain unfinished business, and Buchanan said the city needs to position the district for future success.

“We need to make sure the infrastructure that's needed to support development is in place when there's no longer tax increment available to extend a water line or up-size a water line,” she said. “We're committed to building out that water main network and sidewalks for the district.”

While unexpected opportunities or funding could shift MRA's priority list for the district, the top goal looks to support the development of housing across a variety of price points, while emphasizing density and affordability.

The district includes the West Broadway corridor, which the city recently master planned for redevelopment. The city already owns the Sleepy Inn property and Missoula Water building, and the district's exit plan calls for additional land banking if the opportunity arises.

“If we're able to get Missoula Water relocated to Scott Street, it opens up a huge redevelopment opportunity and there's some property along (West Broadway) we'd probably want to consolidate with the Missoula Water project,” Buchanan said. “So many of these priorities feed into affordable housing. We can build components that help that work.”

The Bissinger Place project planned in Missoula's Central Neighborhood in Urban Renewal District II.
The Bissinger Place project planned in Missoula's Central Neighborhood in Urban Renewal District II.

The district's exit strategy also calls for improvements and bank stabilization along the Clark Fork River, and lighting the Bitterroot Trail through Missoula. The plan also eyes a pedestrian crossing over the river via the old Bitterroot railroad trestle.

Montana Rail Link earlier this year agreed to allow the bridge for that use, though it must also be able to handle rail traffic if needed. Reconstructing California Street also is on the list and remains a high - and costly - priority, Buchanan said.

“We have used tax increment funds to design that project to a pretty extensive degree,” she said. “I think we're positioned pretty well right now to go ahead and apply for (federal) funding.”

The list of priorities, completed with the participation of City Council, targets the city's own priorities with an emphasis on housing. Buchanan said additional housing opportunities may be possible in the future.

“The utility and sidewalk work supports all kind of housing, and the land banking is the biggest piece of that,” Buchanan said. “There's also a change in state statute where they added, we think, the ability to spend tax increment on bricks and mortar for workforce housing. We're working through policy around that, as is every other city in the state that has tax increment. That may be another tool.”