MISSOULA — It's all green lights for developer Nick Checota to get busy making plans for a new hotel and events center on Missoula's Riverfront Triangle, after two city panels approved his request to take over the project -- and Checota is ambitious as he has been with his other ventures, saying construction will start next summer.
In two relatively brief Wednesday meetings, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the city council give their blessing to a plan which could finally fill the "hole" at the old Fox Theater site which has been essentially vacant for the past 35-years.
Hotel Fox Partnerships had worked for more than five years to place a hotel and conference center but now in a pivot, developer and concert promoter Nick Checota is assuming development rights for the hotel site, confidently assuring the city he can make the project happen, using a longer, 75-year lease.
He says interests in everything from the Kettlehouse Amphitheater to the Wilma gives his business diverse income streams for any tough times.
"There's always that risk. There was with the prior developer as well, as there would be with anyone. I would tell you that is mitigated to some degree with us," Checota said. "And also. if we do go out of business and there's an assignment requirement than you have the right to approve or disapprove that."
Members of both panels were impressed, even those with a history of criticizing the city's using of Tax Increment Financing for economic development.
"The fact of the matter is this amendment that we're doing right now is far more favorable to the city than the previous amendment," Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos said.
"Not all jobs are created equally. But I think that when we look at the impact of construction jobs here for one thing," commented Mayor John Engen. "When I look at the impact of the management and professional level jobs that this project brings to the community, I think all boats are lifted."
Another key difference in the plans for the site has Checota scraping the conference center for a much larger events center. Using examples from a recent project in Washington, D.C. he explains a larger venue could attract tens of thousands for concerts and banquets, instead of hundreds.
"This gives us an opportunity to do things we haven't been able to do before. We can do theatrical performances. We can bring in big name comedy. Having 3-thousand seats is really a whole new world for us," Checota told MTN News.
Checota says he's talking to four or five local investors who are very interested in this project. But he says if that doesn't pan out, he has access to larger equity markets that could still make this project a go.
"I've built a lot of real estate and raised a lot of money and could easily go to a national type of equity fund. The local investors is more of a desire to have people invest that live in Missoula and have the money stay in Missoula," Checota said. "And it's going very well. The ones that I've talked to are extraordinarily interested and we're putting together a packet for them to consider."
In addition to the 180 room hotel and 60,000-square foot events center, the project will also include two restaurants, a parking garage and three levels of condominium units.