A union-led coalition wants to turn the Riverfront Triangle into a rallying point for affordability. Is anyone listening? 

Page 2 of 3

In addition to Anderlik's labor groups, coalition members include the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Bike Walk Alliance of Missoula and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation. The alliance, Anderlik says, was born out of a recognition that environmental, transportation, housing and labor issues all interact to shape Missoulians' quality of life.

Rather than oppose the then-fledgling Riverfront project, the coalition sought to negotiate with the developers during the project's planning phase to advocate for elements that would benefit the wider community, not just business. That strategy reflects an approach to community organizing that, while new to Montana, has taken root in cities around the country during the last 15 years, particularly with respect to large, public-private urban development deals like the Riverfront Triangle.

The idea is that when enough community groups band together, they gain the clout to negotiate directly with developers for public benefits that city officials either can't legally require or can't be relied upon to require—anything from affordable housing commitments to minority hiring targets to setting aside space for daycare. The promises are typically bundled into legally binding contracts called community benefits agreements, or CBAs. Armed with the coalition's public support, private developers are then in a better position to get the tax relief or land deal they need from the city government. Janet Fiero, of the Sierra Club, describes the process as "doing good things up front."

Such coalitions are necessary, proponents argue, in part because developers have tended to outmaneuver local governments when making deals involving public resources.

"You wouldn't actually see so many campaigns for private community benefits agreements if cities did a better job of negotiating themselves," says Julian Gross, a senior fellow at PolicyLink, an Oakland, California-based social and economic justice research group. Gross has negotiated some 20 CBAs on behalf of cities and coalitions nationwide.

Members of the Missoula coalition agree. They point to the redevelopment in progress at the Old Sawmill District and the purchase of the Osprey stadium as examples of the community getting the short end of the stick. Developers win city officials' support by "dangling the carrots" of jobs and an increased tax base, says John Wolverton of the Bike Walk Alliance, "but I think sometimes what we gain out of that is not worth some of the detrimental effects that can come out of development."

click to enlarge From left: Mark Anderlik, of the Missoula Area Central Labor Council; Janet Fiero, of the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club; and John Wolverton, of the Missoula Bike Walk Alliance. The coalition of labor, environmental and transportation groups has been trying to shape the public-private Riverfront Triangle development to benefit the broader Missoula community. They’ve come to loggerheads with city officials and the developer over their push for a labor peace agreement. - PHOTO BY CELIA TALBOT ­TOBIN
  • photo by Celia Talbot ­Tobin
  • From left: Mark Anderlik, of the Missoula Area Central Labor Council; Janet Fiero, of the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club; and John Wolverton, of the Missoula Bike Walk Alliance. The coalition of labor, environmental and transportation groups has been trying to shape the public-private Riverfront Triangle development to benefit the broader Missoula community. They’ve come to loggerheads with city officials and the developer over their push for a labor peace agreement.

The stakes are particularly high at the Riverfront Triangle, they say, in that the development will go a long way toward determining whether Missoula's city center becomes a place where average people can afford to both live and work.

"This is a once-in-50-year project for Missoula," Anderlik says, "and it's an opportunity lost—that's for damn sure—if we're not able to get the most out of these agreements."




Hotel Fox Partners made it clear from the outset that they weren't willing to sign any agreements, coalition leaders say, but last fall, the developers agreed to meet with them. The two sides reviewed the coalition's list of requests over a series of seven two-hour meetings. Many of the coalition's proposals were relatively modest: for instance, a request for employee locker rooms in the hotel facilities for employees who bike to work. Some ideas, like a proposal to capture and reuse greywater, were determined to be unfeasible, and others amounted to assurances that the developers would adhere to existing law. Everyone described the meetings as "constructive," and agreed to follow up throughout the process.

But the conversation came to a halt when the topic turned to labor issues. Robin O'Day, vice president of communications for Farran Realty Partners, the local developer that is part of the Hotel Fox team, calls Anderlik's labor peace agreement "an exceptional ask." She says the terms included in the Unite Here! template circulated by Anderlik would almost certainly lead future hotel staff to unionize—a decision she thinks should be left to the employees. "It's not up to us to make that decision," she says.

Stonewalled by the developer, the coalition tried to get one of the most progressive city councils in memory to include the labor peace agreement requirement in its own dealmaking with the developers. Such requests are fairly common, says PolicyLink's Gross. "It's certainly within the government's power in this kind of project."

In this case, however, Anderlik's demand was met with universal skepticism by city leaders.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency board member Daniel Kemmis says his discomfort with the coalition's request is despite his sympathy for the importance of a living wage. Kemmis, a former Missoula mayor and Montana Speaker of the House, says public involvement is crucial to addressing affordability. But he also says that the coalition did a poor job in making its case for what struck him as a "blunt instrument."

"At this point," Kemmis says, "I'm not convinced that the specific proposal for what's called a labor peace agreement is the only or the best way to accomplish the objectives of the coalition."

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Tags: ,

More by Derek Brouwer

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Free Matinee

Free Matinee @ Missoula Public Library

Fourth and Second Wednesday of every month, 2 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation