Identifying a square peg


City Council helped steer the direction of the Riverfront Triangle last week when Chris Behan, assistant director for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, asked for feedback on the kinds of proposals council members wanted for two city-owned lots at the intersection of Orange and Front streets. The news did not appear good for the proposed performing arts center.

“I’m interested in the possibilities for intensive mixed use with residential space,” responded Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacy Rye, chair of the Administration and Finance Committee, at its July 30 meeting.

Echoing recent suggestions from consultants working on Missoula’s Downtown Master Plan, Ward 1 Councilman Dave Strohmaier agreed. He wanted to encourage a mix of residential, commercial and civic uses at the site. At a public meeting May 14, consultants from Crandall and Arambula presented a map that placed housing and retail at the location.

“We’d have three very good clusters of uses that would also fit with the Downtown Master Plan,” Strohmaier said.

While Ward 1 Councilman Jason Wiener hasn’t ruled out a performing arts center, he shared concerns that “heavily prescriptive zoning” could depreciate the property’s real value.

That’s the chief concern of City Council’s more conservative members.

“You put it on the market with zoning specifications, and then get out of the way,” said Ward 5 Councilman Dick Haines. “I don’t think you can sell it, and then tell the buyers what they can and can’t do with it. It’s just not the way the real world works.”

Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins said all that mattered was the lots sell for the highest price possible.

“There’s a big question here with the performing arts center, a question we were supposed to have an answer to back in March, but it never came,” he said. 

Council’s feedback will find its way into a formal request for proposal, which Behan hopes to have completed by September.


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