Riverfront Triangle developers receive permit to clear property prior to construction


MISSOULA – Developers seeking to remove a cluster of old medical buildings in downtown Missoula received approval from Missoula County on Thursday, marking the first step in the redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle.

The work, all listed in Phase 1 of the permit, includes the removal of three vacant buildings between the Clark Fork River and Front Street. The old parking garage is included, as well as the old Western Montana clinic, all concrete foundations and utilities.

Phase 1 work also includes grading the site prior to future construction.

“We are protecting existing riparian vegetation, especially woody trees,” said Eric Anderson, who represents claimants on behalf of the WGM Group. “We plan to demarcate clearing boundaries during construction so that there are no accidents or clearing of vegetation that is supposed to be preserved. “

The county administers the so-called 310 permits for work in the Clark Fork River floodplain and the city limits of Missoula in 1946. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Quality Protection District County Water reviewed the application and found no significant impact.

“It’s in the city’s zoning district that requires a 50-foot setback from the river, which is well outside the jurisdiction of Permit 310,” County planner Todd Cleats said. “But the infrastructure that is already there, including the structures – which are far too close – as well as the riverbank are part of that jurisdiction.”

The Riverfront Triangle represents a collection of plots west of Orange Street and south of West Broadway. The vacant lots have been redeveloped by a number of groups for years, although plans have been delayed after the economic downturn linked to the pandemic.

But interest in the properties returned, and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency said in June that it was working with “several developers,” including one who was “particularly interested in the residential and office buildings.”

The start of phase 1 work identified in the permit represents visible progress after years of delays and anticipation.

“My hunch is that the landowner is just putting his ducks away for the future, which is great,” Missoula Mayor John Engen told Missoula Current Thursday morning. “It’s a positive sign. We have seen a variety of proposals, none of which comes in the form of construction documents. “

No timeline has been set to complete the Phase 1 work, although it will likely take place in the next few months, as Anderson said a Phase 2 permit will be requested next year. This process includes final site improvements.

According to the permit application, the Phase 2 site improvements will include a multi-storey structure with a mix of residential and commercial space. It also suggests an underground parking garage and a paved pedestrian path along the river.

Final design work is expected to be completed this winter for this phase of the project.

“In Phase 2, we plan to show the final location of the trail on the site, along with all buildings and grading, as well as the riparian revegetation plan,” Anderson said. “We plan to remove all the concrete on the bank with phase 2.”

While the project is the first to show signs of activity in the Riverfront Triangle, other plans may still be in the works. Plans for a hotel and conference center on a city-owned property in the Riverfront Triangle have been revived, according to the city.

The plans presented by Wise Enterprise Group after their zoning request was approved by Missoula City Council last year.

Additionally, Wise Enterprise Group has already received a zoning change for the parcel located at 601 W. Broadway. The plans presented for this project suggested a multi-storey building with a mix of retail and housing. The city said the effort is still alive.

The buildings that were to be removed were constructed in the 1960s but fell into disuse and remained vacant for some time. In October 2019, the city council released funding from its revolving loan fund for brownfield cleanup to cover part of the cost of removing asbestos from structures.

With this process already completed and Permit 310 approved, work to clear the site for redevelopment will now follow.

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