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The Wren: Redevelopment planned for windowless hotel in downtown Missoula

$8.7 million renovation planned for former Days Inn
Posted: 10:57 AM, Sep 20, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-20 16:25:43-04
The Wren Development
Days Inn Downtown Missoula

MISSOULA — A dated hotel in downtown Missoula will get new life when an $8.7 million renovation kicks off later this year, transforming the former Days Inn into a modern facility with more rooms for guests and retail on the ground floor.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday approved roughly $560,000 in tax increment financing to assist the project, dubbed The Wren. The funding helps cover improvements to the public right of way, along with alley upgrades and the costly relocation of overhead utility lines.

The project will increase the property’s taxes from $44,000 to an estimated $150,000 annually.

Presented by Imperial Six Hundred out of Bozeman, the finished project will add a fourth floor to the structure, bringing the number of guest rooms from 52 to 73. The current building was erected in the 1960s and has reached the end of its useful life.

It has sat vacant for years, standing as an eyesore on an evolving downtown corner.

“This is a really interesting adaptive reuse of an existing building,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “What’s there now is certainly not a stellar example of urban design or urban architecture. It’s the antithesis of that. You’ve got a ground floor with parking and you’ve got upper floors with no windows.”

The current hotel building represents something of anomaly in the downtown district, and wouldn’t be approved for construction under modern design standards.

Under the approved design, however, the developers plan to convert the main-floor parking lot to commercial uses, including a men’s store, a retail store and a coffee shop occupied by Black Coffee Roasters. A small Airstream RV will be incorporated into the sidewalk design as an ice cream vendor.

“It really engages the public,” Buchanan said of the ice-cream concept. “People go there who aren’t necessarily staying in the hotel.”

As in all downtown projects, questions about parking surfaced on Thursday. The Wren will include three spaces, all that’s permitted under existing city code due to the building’s corner location.

“There’s a prohibition of parking within the first 20 feet of any street or public right of way,” said developer Bryan Caldwell. “That removes 85 percent of what was parking before, so to speak. This is the maximum number of parking spaces allowed under current community regulations.”

Yet Caldwell believes his project has a solution, not unlike that employed by the new Residence Inn and the AC Hotel, which is under construction across the street. Both of those projects made arrangements with the Missoula Parking Commission, including leased spaces in the Park Place garage.

Caldwell believes Missoula could make strides by changing how it manages its structured parking, thereby freeing up valuable space.

“You all have a robust supply of structured parking, but the way it’s managed hasn’t been a requirement yet of how you might optimize that resource,” he said. “I see Bozeman having a lack of resources, but being more creative in how they manage the spaces.”

According to MRA, the Residence Inn inherited 30 spaces at Park Place as part of the deal included in its purchase of the old Mercantile. The developers have since leased another 50 spaces in the garage and purchased the parking lot on the corner of Broadway and Pattee.

While The Wren looks to lease available space in the parking garage after hours, the city may be looking toward future opportunities presented by the vacant lot at Broadway and Pattee. It’s likely to redevelop in the coming years under its new ownership.

“It all becomes parking until such time as it redevelops with something besides asphalt,” Buchanan said. “That could very well include structured parking as part of the package, as it should.”

Caldwell said as much as 40 percent of structured parking should be “overbooked” based on hours of use. Hotels typically park after hours when the garage has ample vacancy. And fewer hotel guests are bringing a car with them, he said.

“We find that the use of the vehicle is diminishing,” said Caldwell. “At peak times when there’s large groups, we’ll find that during the driving months, they’ll rent two or three rooms and show up in one car. The ratio between the number of cars to hotel rooms is quite a bit less.”