Opportunities high for workforce housing on city-owned land, other properties

Student housing got a boost with the recent opening of the ROAM apartments on Front Street in downtown Misssoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

When the new Missoula Public Library opens next year, the city will shift its attention to the old library site and consider the best use of the Front Street property and its prime downtown location.

Chances are good that housing across an array of incomes will be included in whatever develops on the parcel.

“We haven’t begun the process of determining how that will redevelop, but I don’t think I’ve heard a single conversation surrounding that project that didn’t include residential with a mix of incomes and types of housing assistance,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

The library site, donated earlier this year by the Payne family, is just one of several properties now owned by the city. With a housing policy now in hand, the city’s growing portfolio of properties offer unique opportunities to focus on both affordable and workforce housing, advocates contend.

Among them sits a small block off California Street in Urban Renewal District II. Buchanan said the parcel, along with others off Russell Street, are highly suitable for for residential development.

Such projects could be tempted by the expansion of Russell Street and the investment being made to the transportation corridor. The district sits near amenities and is quickly transforming into a walkable community served by public transit.

“Right now you’ve got mini warehouses and car lots,” said Buchanan. “You’ve got a lot of pieces there that aren’t the highest and best use. This area has a lot going on for it and I think it opens up great possibilities down the road with Russell Street.”

Work is underway to complete the first five-lane section of Russell Street. City officials believe new housing and commercial opportunities will follow. (Missoula Current file)

The Russell Street project will also include improvements to the intersection of West Broadway, an area of Missoula that sits in both an opportunity zone and an urban renewal district.

The West Broadway corridor itself is envisioned in the city’s downtown master plan as a mix of housing, office and retail development.

“We think West Broadway is going to be absolutely ripe for remodel and redevelopment,” said Buchanan. “We’ve got some older motels along that stretch that could be transitioned into some pretty significant housing projects that are mixed use.”

Other parts of Missoula offer similar chances for infill housing development. Montana Rail Link recently donated roughly a dozen acres off Johnson Street to the city, part of which has been converted to a park.

Buchanan said the remaining seven acres will be redeveloped as a residential showpiece after the leases held by several existing tenants expire.

“We’ve got about seven or eight acres where we have an opportunity to build a model project and prove to developers that you can mix incomes, you can mix subsidized and market rate, you can mix housing types and build mixed use into that,” Buchanan said.

Less than a mile south on property near Southgate Mall, a team of developers – including Peter Lambros – have also been eyeing a vacant lot for residential development.

While Lambros hasn’t returned calls seeking comment on his plans for the property, Buchanan said the parcel’s location presents an opportunity to place additional housing near transit and other urban amenities.

“That’s under the ownership of two entities who have been looking at that for the last 12 to 14 years for a mixed-use development that will be primarily residential,” Buchanan said. “There’s been discussions with some of the nonprofits about having a mix of permanently affordable housing in with market-rate housing in that area, and create some live-work opportunities and some mixed-use opportunities.”

Several dilapidated properties in the Riverfront Triangle are slated for demolition ahead of an infill project, which is expected to include a mix of housing types. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

While the various parcels across Missoula could see several hundred units of housing come on the market across an array of incomes, Buchanan said the city’s largest opportunity for affordable residential development may sit north of the railroad tracks off Scott Street.

The city approved the area as an urban renewal district several years ago and dedicated the eastern portion of the district to residential development.

At least one project – the Vallagio – is already poised for construction and has received roughly $1 million in federal subsidies from the city. The project will includes roughly 200 units of affordable housing.

Other parcels in the Scott Street district are owned by a number of entities.

“We’ve got at least four opportunities there for large developments,” said Buchanan. “The city owns some property there, Montana Rail Link owns some property there, and Scott Street Partners owns some property there. It’s a huge possibility for a lot residential development.”