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Developers propose riverfront hotel

Missoula City Council this week began considering a proposal to build on the city's long-languishing, undeveloped 1.87-acre parcel at the corner of North Orange and West Front streets known as the "Fox Site," part of the Riverfront Triangle.

"If we can pull this off, I will be very happy," says Missoula Redevelopment Agency Assistant Director Chris Behan.

Behan is reserving his optimism—because the city has been unsuccessful in its first six attempts to develop the prime piece of riverfront real estate. "It's like waking up every morning and thinking its Christmas, and it's not," he says.

The MRA in May invited developers to submit their vision for the property. A selection committee and the MRA board chose one of five proposals. This week, they recommended that city council grant developer Hotel Fox, LLC exclusive right to negotiate an agreement with the city to develop the land. "We feel confident in at least starting negotiations," Behan says.

Hotel Fox's proposal calls for a 200-plus-room hotel with a 15,500-square-foot conference space and a health club that will be open to guests and the public. An indoor-outdoor swimming pool overlooking the Clark Fork would stretch out alongside a restaurant and retail shops.

Hotel Fox partners include the Missoula-based Farran Group's Pat Corrick and Jim McLeod, who have been working through financing challenges to develop the Intermountain Lumber site on Missoula's Russell Street. Other partners include Dieter Huckestein, Sean Averill and Scott Ringer. Averill and Ringer are based in the Flathead Valley. "Having a convention-hotel facility, I think, is key for the city," Ringer says. "We're just very excited about it."

Building the Fox Hotel is estimated to cost $37.6 million. According to Behan, it would be funded with private funds, loans, tax credits and, potentially, tax-increment financing through the MRA.

If council signs off on the deal, Behan says the MRA will support the developers as they engage in a market study and set to work drawing up architectural plans, all in the hope that the seventh time will be the charm. "Until they can get some of this work done, we won't know," Behan says.

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