Budget 2020: Old federal building, Hotel Fox, parking structures get review

The city’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year includes $100,000 to conduct an overview of its spacial needs and whether the vacant downtown federal building could house local government services.

With the budgeting season winding down, a number of smaller city departments pitched their funding requests for the new season Wednesday and offered insight into what’s on tap over the next 12 months.

That includes expectations that the Hotel Fox project will undergo construction this fiscal year.

“There are a lot of questions floating around the community about the viability of that project,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “It’s our firm belief that it’s viable and on track. It’s not happening as fast as anyone would like for it to, but nothing that complicated ever does.”

Now years in planning, the project includes a 60,000-square-foot conference center and hotel on the corner of Orange and Front streets, along with a parking structure. The city plans to purchase the center and roughly 300 parking spaces once the project is completed.

All the agreements have been completed and developers have until October to secure the necessary building permits and begin construction. They’ve placed other parcels associated with the development on the market, and remediation and deconstruction are expected to begin in the coming months.

“But the hotel and conference center would still be the first piece of that redevelopment that will happen,” Buchanan said.

The city and county are also exploring their future spacial needs and the opportunities presented in the vacant federal building. Both governments are working to acquire the property, which needs several million dollars in repairs, but is large enough to house a number of unified services.

Dale Bickell said the city will conduct due diligence using funds from general government impact fees.

“We’ll look at what kind of changes we have to make to that building and the status of the systems,” Bickell said. “We’ll match up the county’s and city’s space plans to see what functions can be shared and see what other opportunities we have to cooperate.”

The Parking Commission also is seeking $41,900 to hire an administrative assistant, and $25,000 to upgrade several dated parking structures.

Tiffany Brander said the upgrades would include cameras, allowing the facilities to keep their gates down around the clock. Doing so would offer additional security and lend insight into downtown parking needs and user habits.

“It provides a whole lot of information on what’s happening when we’re not there,” she said. “It’s a big step and it’s something we’ve been able to do with ROAM, because it’s a brand new building and they have cameras built in. The small things we’ve been able to see with ROAM is that cameras would be a lovely addition to all our parking structures.”