Missoula’s Newest Big Money-Sucking Project

by jhwygirl

Longer-term readers of this 4&20 might remember my skepticism of the now (seemingly…I do believe in zombies) defunct Performing Arts Center fiasco of 2 years ago.

I mean – if King George can keep resurfacing his damned golf course-killing condo plan every couple years – call me a skeptic – it isn’t far fetched to think that that darned PAC won’t resurface….but I digress.

Last night, the Missoula Events Center (MEC) steering committee unveiled its plans for an events center for Missoula. With proper pomp-and-procedure, a carefully orchestrated event designed to make the mere commoners believe that electeds were all in support (since they were all ushered to the front rows for not only the best seats, but to make them all visible to everyone there), delivered to Missoulians the important information that:

(One) We don’t have a non-university related events center when compared with a randomly picked sampling of other university towns (the horrors!)
(Two) That cities that “compete with Missoula for economic development” (Texas?) have centers and Missoula doesn’t (crisis!)
(Three) Only 6 facilities exist in Missoula that have over 10,000 square feet of space! (Red Flag Warning!) Those include the Missoula Children’s Theater (at 17,748 square feet – and boy, that thing hardly has an open night to host all those conventions and events lining up to come here!), the UM Center (at 21,205 square feet) and, yep, the Adam’s Center, at 31,700 square feet.
(Four) A new facility would have the advantage of – well – being new.

Apparently I’m not part of the crowd of people that travel to places just to see their new events center. Who knew it was such a cool thing to do?

After the presentation (done by Hunden Strategic Partners, out of Chicago and Indiana) went through the ‘what Missoula has and why we need it’ portion, it went on to compare what regional competitors have (Spokane, Billings, Bozeman, Belgrade, Butte, Great Falls) have.

What? No mention of the Lewis & Clark County’s new, 36,000 square foot exhibit/convention/car show/concert hall. Didn’t work that into your analysis because – maybe? – it was new and the one’s that they picked elsewhere were built at the average date of 1976?

I mean – how’d they miss that?

All those comparisons and nothing telling us how many events per year? Capacity ratio? They gave us the hotel occupancy rates throughout the year, but didn’t think to tell us how jam-packed and overbooked all those comparables are in the region?

I also love how the throw the Bozeman Brickhouse in – considering that they started off with the horror that Missoula doesn’t have a non-university related events center. But yeah – that Brickhouse is pretty and would make someone wanting one of these things jealous. It’s Bozeman after all! Gotta keep up with the Jones’!

They also use the Belgrade Special Events Center – built by the school district to host regional sports events.

Why no comparison, then, with the Osprey Stadium (or whatever it’s called these days?) Cause you know that’s packed with outdoor concerts and stuff….and you know that is how that was sold to Missoulians nearly 8 years ago, right?. Call the Mayor and ask to see the agreement. We were blessed with a facility that was going to be for baseball and at least 2 outdoor events each year for the first 10 years…and then it gets turned over to the city.

So they build the presentation into a crescendo of “Everyone has one – and you, Missoula, are behind. Nerd.” level and then drop the bomb of their analysis (which included lots and lots of fine pictures of Brennan’s Wave and views of the Higgin’s Avenue Bridge and Caras Park and the Boone and Crockett and the U…and downtown, of course – but where do they believe this convention center should go? Out by Reserve Street and the Airport.

It scored 92 points, don’tcha know?

Economic Development my ass. It’s an economic UNdevelopment plan to kill downtown is what it is.

What? 17 acres of parking? 5 acres for the building? Easy access to what? Those hotels and motels that all end with the letter “N”? Meh.

The funniest absurdity of the night? Here it is: The steering committee comes to unveil its project. It’s the first time most are hearing of it, yet alone being able to see this pseudo early feasibility analysis of why we must have one…and after pulling all the ‘important’ people up front together for everyone to see, and they’re done with their presentation, they ask if everyone’s on board for the next step (which is putting them under contract for the full feasibility study – that probably-close-to-if-not-6-digit-contract) while everyone is still absorbing who? what? where? when? how much? Obligatory applause ends the presentation and little time is left for anyone that was even able to think of anything to ask.

You mean there was a quiz, sir?

So maybe I AM right. Maybe the PAC isn’t dead, and the MEC is just the zombie reincarnation of it. Because – you know – the Board of County Commissioners are on board with this. Of course, the numero uno location is close, if not within, their overwrought-with-bidders county economic development park.

Who wants to start the office poll on how many millions they’ll be asking to have put on the ballot to get this thing off the ground?

What comes around goes around. And around. And around. Kinda like the water draining out of the bathtub.


  1. problembear

    The s.o. Is gonna love this post. Applause…..

  2. Lizard

    i think it sounds like a great idea, because if we ever have a major disaster in Missoula, this event center can double as a refugee shelter, like in New Orleans.

  3. petetalbot

    I certainly wasn’t thrilled to see the favored locations being Reserve St. or the airport corridor — basically fringe areas serviced by cars, only.

  4. What does it take to kill this crappy idea at this point? A silver bullet? A stake through the heart?

    I disagree with you on one point, jhwygirl: the Brick Breeden is ugly. It’s like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Sorry, Goof.)

    • goof houlihan

      brick breeden’s the university’s sports facility and it’s expensive to rent for an event…but so would any other place be! that’s the freakin reality!

      the valley ice garden is now a beer distributor’s warehouse which should be a lesson in reality

      and the sixties’ architecture is now protected, as historical, rebecca, it’s historically ugly, now

  5. Also, the airport corridor? Which gravel pit will be our shiny new events center’s neighbor? Gee, how scenic.

  6. Where’s John Hendrickson when you need him? Dick Haines?

    Or, Kathy Greathouse: “It’s just a tax to cover what the city budget doesn’t cover anymore.”

    Or, John Quandt: “I really dislike the idea of having an additional tax.”


    Maybe they’ll serve microbrews?

    • Kathy Greathouse, candidate for Ward 6, is on the Board of the Missoula Building Industry Association.

      They’ve written a letter in SUPPORT of the project.

      See this link.

      • Ryan Morton

        So are John Engen and the City Council… among others. But I guess you’re right, MBIA support is more of a blogoversy.

        • JC

          A blogoversy is just the tip of the blogberg. ;-)

          • Ryan Morton

            Almost clever…

            Way to target Kathy and not the Mayor or sitting Council members. Very classy.

          • JC

            I was making a joke. About blogoversies in general. Notice the little winky?

            If I wanted to target Kathy or the mayor/council, I would do so directly. And I may when I know more about the proposal and where candidates and other city officials come down on it.

            Being a little touchy, are we today, Ryan? Once bitten, twice shy?

          • Ryan Morton

            Just trying to live up to attitude of the blog.

        • Honestly Ryan Morton. You are so absolutely overly defensive its what makes you laughable.

          Can you follow a stream of conversation? I have to wonder. LOOK at the comment to which I was replying. Binky mentioned 3 people: John Quandt, Kathy Greathouse and John Hendrickson.

          Greathouse is on the board of the agency that produced a letter in support. So Binky’s looking for Greathouse to step in and say “no” to the lunacy and I was basically saying “don’t hold your breath.”

          Hell, I missed targeting Hendrickson in the reply to Binky’s mention of 3 specific people. It wasn’t intentional, and despite my record of expressing disappointment with anyone of any party at any time, you will think it was intentional.

          Talk about blogoversy.

          So yeah – what would have probably gone largely unnoticed, has gotten a hell of a lot of attention.

          I’m disappointed that this city is seeming to aspire to a town of burger king minimum and just above minimum wage jobs. Unreal. A convention center. Whoopdee doo….jobs. Mentioned in both letters.

          But what kind of jobs.

          We are a city and county that gives fantastic tax breaks for industries like DirectTV (big paychecks there. A married couple working there still couldn’t afford a median priced home in Missoula). MAEDC also helped pay for a study on the Maclay Ski area. What did they come up with? The fact that while it might employ X hundred of people, it’d be seasonal and they’d be low paying minimum wage jobs. There wouldn’t be a long-term economic boon – it’d be temporary, as it was built, and then bleah.

          Whatever. These things are always talked about as “economic development.” Economic development for who? Short term? The builders and the bankers. Long term? Few.

          Even fewer if you build it out there on the highway, away from the picturesque city they’ll use in all the brochures to sell this cash albatross to the taxpayers.

  7. Tobie

    Yes, I can see how tragic it may seem to all of you to bring an economic driver into our community…gasp!!


    • Read the linked article Tobie. PACs make money–in non-rural communities. Say what you will about Missoula’s rapidly expanding population, but we’re actually a pretty rural area.

      Just like with the previous PAC, I’m pulling for this to work, but can Missoula support another venue? Really that’s where the debate should be focussed.

      I would really like to hear from Rick Wishcamper from the Wilma on how their revitalization of that venue is going. Is it pulling in money hand over fist? Are they constantly filling to capacity on events (Kevin Costner’s band, the Decemberists, etc.) and having to turn away ticket buyers?

      It would be great if Missoula could get a world-class venue, but only if we the community don’t get stiffed with the bill. Again.

      • Ryan Morton

        The Center wouldn’t just do concerts; it would do trade shows, conventions, etc. And it could hold multiple events concurrently.

        • But isn’t that what the Adams Center does already? Or how about the Hilton Garden Inn and the Holiday Inn Parkside? Plenty of conventions are held at both. Is there a call for these “multiple events concurrently”? I can’t remember the last time I saw a great community outcry over the fact that a Toby Keith concert couldn’t be held in the same building at the same time as a gem and mineral show.

          • Ryan Morton

            There has been plenty of call for the Convention Center. That’s why so many public officials and business associations have supported the effort.

    • JC

      How do you know it will be an economic driver?

      There has yet to be any information about costs and who will pay them. How much will taxes go up? WHo will pay maintenance costs? What are residents of Missoula County going to be asked to give up, and for what? The opportunity to have big boat and garden shows? BIA Expos? RV and gun shows? Dog and pony shows?

      Are the commishes going to put it up to a vote of the people? Or are they just going to spend a bunch of public money up front with no guarantees of public buy in. At least the Missoula PAC was funded privately during its inception.

      It could well be an economic sink hole. Especially when trying to justify taxpayer funded escapades during the Great Recession.

      Or are they just trying to propose a project that might get funded by the next installment of stimulus spending?

      • Ryan Morton

        The feasibility study would project whether it would be an economic driver. So far, there has been significant private investment into the project with matching grant money. Public funding of the project construction seems like premature speculation at this point.

        • JC

          Why shouldn’t people speculate about funding? The whole thing is a big speculation at this point.

          And public funds are already being spent on it for studies and staff time. Actually, I’m amazed at the amount of public support for a facility that has absolutely no basis in reality, yet. I’d appreciate some skepticism from our public leaders during the concept and feasibility phase of this thing.

          Makes me wonder why the MEC would enjoy so much up front boosterism, when the PAC received nothing but skepticism. And the PAC had well developed plans and architecturals to bandy about. The MEC has what? 17 acres of asphalt and 110,000 sq. feet of concrete floor.

          A field of dreams? Build it and they will come?

          • Ryan Morton

            Ok. Let’s speculate. If public funds are to be used, I’m sure we’ll all have something to say about it… like with a ballot measure plus public hearings. I think our public officials have the common sense to see an actual proposal before bringing up pointless skepticism. Just sayin’.

          • JC

            Public funds are already being used. And public land is being bandied about as locations.

          • Ryan Morton

            That public land is being sold regularly for revenue to the County. The bare land is bringing no revenue to the County now… and has cost the County money to prepare for sale.

        • problembear

          i say that whoever thinks they need to build this hideously planned industrial/suburban monstrosity can jolly well pay for it without asking the public to pay for it. that’s what i think

  8. Lizard

    let ’em try. any project this size is going to stall anyway as the new economic reality continues to evolve, and by evolve i mean degrade.

    there should be no public money put toward this at all. there are better, more productive things to spend it on. there is still a commercial real estate collapse on the horizon, and continued job loss. what kind of long term jobs would this create? custodial? more wonderful service jobs? ticket takers?

    it’s a bad idea, and one that shows how screwed up some people’s priorities are.

  9. Thomas Paine

    The only people who want this are the people who build things. And after this is built, they’ll make up some excuse to build something else. That’s what builders do.

    Then, this huge shed will sit empty 350 days a year, and on the oft chance that some monster truck show comes to town, the few who are employed will make minimum wage to sweep after the circus leaves town.

    Let’s hold the conservative capitalists to their principals. If they think this idea is such an economic firecracker, then raise the money like good capitalists do and reap the profits. It’s because everyone knows this is nothing but a sinkhole that everyone is suddenly a socialist sucking on the public tit as money is wasted pushing a bad idea that will only benefit the connected few.

    As soon as the Adams Center is shown to be either too busy or too small to host events begging to come to Missoula, I’ll support an additional venue, even though I know it’ll be as half-ass as the seats in the University Theatre. Until then, Missoula’s corporate welfare queens will just have to join the bums downtown and panhandle.

    • I completely agree with you, Thomas. What amazes me is the typically conservative chamber of commerce all of a sudden rallies to what they typically abhor – as you put it, sucking on the public tit.

      I’d only add that I’ll never support anything like this, regardless of how it is funded, unless it sits right downtown. Anything other than that, and it works AGAINST economic development of the heart of Missoula and to that I say HELL NO.

      • goof houlihan

        interesting theory except it is the liberal liberals who build things with other peoples money that push these “arts” projects…it’s the sports facilities that seem to get the right’s buy-in. when they do become reality the o&m for the edifices consume the money that had been going to kids’ and citizens’ arts and sports

        but they always employ an ED and a Development Director and their little empires. those two “non-profit” jobs always pay really well

        even downtown it’s a boondoggle; call it performing arts or events center or a baseball stadium

  1. 1 Cutting your nose to spite your face? « Bunk in the West

    […] get me started on the problems with this one. jhwygirl does a nice job over here. Suffice to say that Hunden Strategic Partners got paid $50,000 for the first phase of their […]

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