Missoula brings UM into the fold
Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned administrators and overseers, the University of Montana—one of Missoula's primary cultural assets and economic drivers—continues its precipitous decline toward the second rank of flagship state universities. Responding to the ongoing debacle in the only way he knows how, Mayor John Engen announces that the city—after months of secret negotiations—has entered into an agreement to purchase the struggling school, bringing it under the umbrella of municipal management with Mountain Water and a growing portfolio of city-owned infrastructure. The purchase price won't be announced until late 2018, but whatever it is, hey, it's only money.
Denise Juneau gets a job
Denise Juneau's yearlong job interview didn't go so well. Nearly 60 percent of Montana voters opted in November not to hire the term-limited superintendent of public instruction as their congresswoman. Sensing an opportunity, hundreds of petitioners lined up in December to support Juneau's bid to replace outgoing University of Montana President Royce Engstrom. As intriguing as that idea is, skepticism about Juneau's lack of higher- education credentials put a crimp on those aspirations as the calendar turned to the new year, leaving her to search for another avenue of employment in 2017. We predict Juneau won't stay idle long. With her former electoral opponent Ryan Zinke departing for the Department of Interior, she'll follow up with a second shot at the U.S. House seat Zinke leaves behind—a victory Republicans will once again deny her. Her name will then pop up as a possible challenger to Mayor John Engen this fall. But the thought of rocking the establishment boat in her new hometown won't hold much appeal for Juneau, and she'll finally resort to an option most Missoulians in search of a steady gig only ever talk about. She'll open a brewery.
The Mercantile gets new life as a laser projection
A judge still has to rule, but the Missoula Mercantile's days appear to be numbered. Those old bricks just aren't suited for business in the 21st century—at least that's what the developers of a new Marriott hotel at the site convinced Missoula City Council last year. Thousands of Missoula residents begged to differ, going so far as to dream up their own redevelopment alternatives for a mixed-use, community-centered, chic epicenter of all things Missoula. The new year brings a wrecking ball to those fantasies—but we predict the Merc doesn't go down without a(nother) fight. Historic preservation advocates will chain themselves to the building, sing "Big Yellow Taxi" with the parking lot lyric replaced by the name of a certain hotel brand, and tape a list of demands to the display windows.
In an attempt to appease the protesters, HomeBase Montana founder Andy Holloran agrees to memorialize the historic structure by projecting a hologram of the old Merc in Caras Park—and charging people a dollar and a half to wander through it. The truce holds until summer, when farmers market strollers complain that the enormous hologram blocks their view of Ninja Mike's breakfast sandwich menu, and a whole new controversy is born.
The city finds an affordability fix
This year, the city of Missoula will finally address the housing affordability and availability crisis head on. In 2016, the median price for housing peaked at roughly $260,000, while the median family could afford about $180,000. The powers to be will acknowledge this disparity and make it a priority to implement a solution. Following in the successful footsteps of Burlington, Vermont (a community that possesses a lot of similar traits), the city of Missoula will implement an inclusionary housing policy. This citywide ordinance will require a percentage of new construction to be permanently affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. The policy will positively affect community cohesion, normalize neighborhood demographics and balance local housing markets.
After all, our baristas (and professors) have to live somewhere.
Jack Metcalf, professor, bartender and North Missoula Community Development Corporation board member
The Boss plays in darkness, on the edge of town
In 2014 we made the bold prediction that Bruce Springsteen would finally play Missoula in 2015. A community Facebook page called "Bruce Springsteen in Missoula" had been started in 2009, featuring occasional pleas for the heartland hero to make his way to the Garden City. We'd already (finally) gotten the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, and Montana was one of just a few states that the Boss had yet to play. We're (again) predicting that will change.
Remember in Field of Dreams when James Earl Jones told Kevin Costner, "If you build it, they will come?" In December, Top Hat and Wilma owner Nick Checota announced plans to build a 4,000-capacity amphitheater in partnership with KettleHouse Brewing. The KettleHouse Amphitheater is slated to open in May along the Blackfoot River in Bonner, just seven miles from Missoula. Coincidentally, Springsteen plans to tour for the release of a new solo album this year. Unable to resist the enticing spot down by—ahem—the river, the Boss will angle to be named the amphitheater's grand-opening act, kicking off a summer full of coveted big-ticket names.
Reserve Street gets a big ol' bag of Dick's
OK, so maybe you'd prefer that Trader Joe's or IKEA be the next chain to set up shop in Missoula on the heels of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. But Trader Joe's (never mind IKEA) will continue to elude us. How about the next best thing? Get excited for Dick's Drive-In. The beloved Washington-based fast food chain will (in our dreams) branch out of state for the first time to satisfy Missoula's insatiable hunger for cheap burgers and penis jokes. It will be a bold move for the legendary chain, which was founded in the 1950s and has changed little since. But we predict Missoulians will flock in droves and Dick's will quickly muscle its way into the competitive local burger scene.
You also might be familiar with the Dick's Hamburgers in Spokane, a drive-in that opened in 1965 and offers a remarkably similar menu to the Seattle chain, but is owned by a different company. Truth be told, we're not sure which Dick's we'll be getting. But really, for most Missoulians, any Dick's will do.