As the Downtown Master Plan continues to take shape, city officials and business owners have expressed lingering concern over the long-term commitment of one of the plan’s integral parts: Macy’s, which consultants refer to as a key “retail anchor.” Those concerns were heightened last week when Rich Boberg, general manager for the Missoula Macy’s and a Missoula Downtown Association (MDA) board member, left his job after a decade with the department store.
“Losing Macy’s would be the canary in the coal mine,” says Jason Graf, a project manager with Crandall Arambula, the consulting firm leading the Downtown Master Plan process. “It’s a critical site for strengthening the retail market downtown.”
Boberg’s departure is just the latest cause for concern. In February, Macy’s Inc. cut 2,500 jobs nationwide and downsized its regional divisions to trim more than $100 million in costs. While Doug Patterson, district vice president with Macy’s West, wouldn’t comment on the future of the Missoula store, he did say Boberg’s position would be filled soon.
“We need to fill that position in the next two weeks,” Patterson says, “and we want that person to be just as intimately involved with the downtown planning process as Rich was.”
Macy’s involvement in the Downtown Master Plan goes beyond its retail draw. Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, points out that the store owns the empty lot on the southeast corner of Pattee and Front streets, which city officials and neighboring First Interstate Bank want to transform into a larger parking garage.
“It’s critical,” says Anne Guest, director of the Missoula Parking Commission, referring to the lot. “We could build a multi-story parking structure there and create more retail space along Pattee and Front.”
Patterson says he’s not privy to the conversations regarding the lot. But city officials expect talks will continue between Macy’s, First Interstate and the city about the potential parking structure.