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Riverfront Triangle project on pause; developers watching markets “day by day”

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 11:30:23-04

MISSOULA — Months before construction was set to begin on one of the largest urban infill projects in Missoula, developers behind the plan are hitting pause and will wait for the markets to reveal their post-pandemic future.

After years of planning, Riverfront Triangle Partners said they’re now taking a day-by-day approach while analyzing the first phase of their project and what happens with the national economy.

“We’re still enthusiastic about it, but given the current situation, I think everyone has hit the pause button to see how this all plays out,” said Jim McLeod with the Farran Group in Missoula and Riverfront Triangle Partners. “The equity markets and our lenders, they’re all kind of in the same boat, waiting to see how it all plays out.”

Riverfront Triangle Partners owns roughly five of the seven acres that comprise the Riverfront Triangle in downtown Missoula. The project has been years in the making and includes a hotel and events center, an underground parking garage, and a commercial and housing component.

The parking garage was set to break ground this year, marking the project’s first step in partnership with Clark Fork Riverfront Properties. While construction of the garage is still on the table, the timeline remains uncertain, possibly delaying other elements of the development.

“Clearly, we were hoping to start construction by fall with the parking structure,” said McLeod. “Everything has just been put on hold until we have a better understanding of what the capital markets look like in the next few months.”

Developers across the county are taking different approaches to their projects during the pandemic, with those in Dallas saying they’re moving forward on a planned apartment tower. In Boise, however, some developers are hitting pause and will evaluate the market over the weeks and months ahead.

McLeod said he saw a similar slowdown during the 2008 recession, though this time around the slowdown is global. It’s unknown how long the pandemic will last, and what its impact on the markets will be.

“The triangle is a great piece of property, but we’re market driven, and when the markets are good, that’s when we’ll get going,” McLeod said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out, where the market is going to be, not next week but where it’s going to be in six months or twelve months, and nobody has those answers right now.”

Riverfront Triangle Partners began its schematic design last year on Phase One of its project, which is slated to be a commercial and housing project with 200 or more market rate apartments.

The project can’t begin until the parking garage is finished, and neither can the hotel and events center. Both projects were slated to stand above the garage and would mark the early phases of what’s expected to extend the downtown district and serve as a significant economic boon to the city and its other businesses.

“We were settling on unit mixes, square footage, layout and all that, but we had time because the parking, if it started in September, would take nine months at least to get built out,” said McLeod.

“You’re designing along the way and going vertical after the parking structure. We were looking to start sometime next summer on the vertical part, but we’ve got to the get the parking in, and that puts everything on hold.”