Grunke column: Planting the Seeds of Development in Missoula

Over the course of two days in late June, I joined Mayor John Engen to host eight local and regional developers on a tour of sites across the valley that are primed for development. We spent time kicking around dirt, knowledge and ideas at places including the Old Sawmill District on the Clark Fork River, the Midtown Urban Renewal District along South Brooks Street and the Riverfront Triangle near the corner of Orange and Front Streets.

Along the way, we introduced those developers to key people from local agencies and professional service providers — the people who can help usher local projects from brainstorm to bricks-and-mortar.

All told, those eight developers — who together have undertaken literally billions of dollars worth of development projects across the West — met with 21 private-sector investors in Missoula Economic Partnership plus four key strategic partners. These local leaders offered expertise in redevelopment, utilities, architecture, engineering, local and alternative financing, real estate and more.

The 2013 Developer Showcase grew out of the recognition that we must be proactive in attracting commercial development, in the same way that we court visiting companies and nurture local startups.

It also grew out of the knowledge that Missoula today sits in an unusually attractive position for commercial development. Few communities in the United States can boast more than 50 acres of shovel-ready land in the heart of downtown. Between the Old Sawmill District and the Riverfront Triangle, Missoula offers exactly that.

We also have more than 1,000 acres of land situated in four urban renewal districts, where development can qualify for tax increment financing. This is a key tool in penciling out large-scale projects; but few developers have been well acquainted with the opportunities that lie across our city. It was tax increment financing, for example, that ultimately brought to fruition the South Crossing project at the former Kmart on South Brooks Street.

Local developers, with their connections in the area, play a central role in most local projects; but they don’t always have access to the capital or other resources needed for large-scale projects.

By introducing larger regional developers to their local peers — and potential partners — and by acquainting them directly with development opportunities in the city, we can accelerate the capital investment that supports other types of growth we aim to nurture in Missoula.

After several years of slow growth, Missoula is on the cusp of a development boom. In the next year, more than $100 million in commercial and multifamily housing development projects are expected to break ground. In the near-term, that’s good news for the Missoula construction industry and related service, equipment and materials providers.

By reaching out to developers through this and future Developer Showcases, we believe even greater growth is possible, bringing with it new jobs, new residential opportunities and ultimately a more attractive, thriving Missoula.

James Grunke is CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership. This column originally appeared in the July 28, 2013 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness. 

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