Martin Kidston – MIssoula Current
With the planting of a shovel, a Missoula business joined city leaders on Monday in the groundbreaking of a new office building and what’s expected to begin the redevelopment of the West Broadway corridor.
DJ&A will use the $3.5 million office as its new headquarters, where it plans to grow its workforce from 50 employees to 80 over the next few years once the space becomes available.
“We’re a growing business, and this building is a symbol of that growth,” said Chris Anderson, president of DJ&A. “More importantly, it’s a symbol of the progress our community is making in growing the businesses here and attracting new talent to places like Missoula.”
Anderson and other investors see DJ&A’s investment in the West Broadway area as a harbinger of things to come. The project marks the first to land in Missoula’s new opportunity zone and it’s expected to generate further interest.
The new office will occupy 1.5 acres on the larger 6.5-acre property.
“We have some interested parties right now that are looking at the remaining portions,” said Anderson. “We hope this will be an event that spurs additional growth in this area and around us as well. Over the next three to five years, you’ll see this entire 6.5-acre area redeveloped with Class A office space.”
A recent study contracted by Missoula Economic Partnership found the city lacking in Class A office space. Coupled with tax increment from the surrounding urban renewal district and incentives included in the opportunity zone, the tools are available to transition the corridor to a wider range of uses.
West Broadway currently caters to the automobile in five lanes of traffic with far-reaching asphalt parking lots. That 1970s style of business will eventually give way to infill with denser urban development.
“I think you’re going to see a fair amount of investment in this area,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “You’ve got the tools to get it done and we’ve got people asking around about the different possibilities. It’s really easy to spot soft real estate because it’s underutilized.”
Last month, MRA approved roughly $301,000 in tax increment to make public improvements to the right of way in conjunction with the DJ&A project. The funding will see the city bring modern sewer and power to the site to serve the new office and other future projects.
Anderson said the property’s location in the urban renewal district and its proximity to the urban core made it an ideal location.
“We just saw an opportunity here on this site and in an area where redevelopment is really needed, and we wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “Missoula is growing because people want to live here, and we’ve created an opportunity for people to live here and work here and earn a good wage, and be a part of that progress.”
Just across West Broadway on Mullan Road, plans are also in the works to build 125 units of permanently affordable housing. Nearby, Missoula Bone and Joint is midway through the construction of a new multi-million surgery center.
Missoula Mayor John Engen said the area has entered a state of transition, one likely to touch other parts of the city.
“Wherever you see relatively small buildings in seas of asphalt in a valley where land is valuable, we’re going to see more and more of this activity,” Engen said. “We should use the land well, use the land appropriately, and we’ve got plans and resources to help companies like DJ&A do really well out there.”
With Missoula’s growth, DJ&A has seen its workflow increase over the past three years, and it has outgrown its current office. It plans to add 30 new positions in the coming years and bring other projects to fruition on its West Broadway campus.
Grant Kier, president and CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, said the project may represent the future of collaboration between the city and private investors.
“This is an important project from our perspective because the city, MRA and a private party worked closely together, and we think these public-private partnerships are the future of smart growth here in our community,” Kier said. “We think the kind of teams that came together for this project are exactly what we need more of.”