Developer Seeking Riverfront Fox Theater Site Refuses to Discuss Community Benefits Agreement

by jhwygirl

A little over two weeks ago we wrote about developments at the old Fox Theater site, including the developer’s request to get the city-owned riverfront property – valued at nearly $3 million I believe – for nothing and a grassroots citizen’s group comprised of labor, transportation and natural resource advocates who were seeking a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) from the developer in order to (a) ensure a true community benefit to the project given that it was city-owned land and (b) garner public support for their proposal.

There were some good reads at that last post on CBA’s, including this one from the Federal Reserve and this one from Cornell University.

Since then, this project is looking more like a potential boondoggle (read: O-s-p-r-e-y–S-t-a-d-i-u-m) given that the developers are asking for a right of first refusal agreement on the parcel in exchange for the $40,000 market study they’d need to do.

A right of first refusal for land they’ve already said they need to get for nothing in order to be viable?

The Farren Group & its investors propose a $37.6 million hotel and conference center and now they want to do a market study? And they want an exclusive agreement in exchange for a $40,000 market study that is 1/10th of 1% of the cost of the project they proposed?

In the real world, they’d be paying the owner of the property for such an exclusive deal. A private property owner would laugh at such a proposal.

And according to the Missoulian, last week’s report out of city council’s Administration & Finance committee indicates that council is prepared to hand that over to them, despite the well-attended appearance of the Community Benefits Coalition at the committee meeting, and the unwillingness of the developer to even discuss such an agreement.

If they’re doing a market study, shouldn’t it include all possible knowns and variables? Wouldn’t construction labor be a significant component?

In the previous post, there were three parts to the CBA agreement. So far, Pat Corrick of the Farren Group has been provided the card-check neutrality agreement and the project labor agreement. Given the speed at which this project has moved forward in the last two weeks (why the rush?), the final portion related to design issues such as pathways and parking has yet to be finalized.

Corrick’s response to the requests by the CBC to discuss the proposals? He told the CBC that he ‘wasn’t interested in negotiating on this right now,’ and that he might be ‘when the market study is done.’

Councilperson Bob Jaffe mentioned the CBC on his Missoula.gov listserv after Wednesday’s A&F committee meeting:

The CBC folks really wanted us to withhold the exclusivity agreement until they were able to negotiate with the developers but we weren’t really interested in that. I’m hoping we can come up with something by Monday that gives them some kind of seat at the table during the negotiation period. The development group is asking for a lot of public money in this project so I think it is reasonable for them to make some concessions for our community value and concerns. Based on their presentation I’m pretty sure we are all sharing a mostly common vision for this project. I’m pretty optimistic they can all work together to come up with something we are all happy with.

Might be nice if they gave the CBC more than a few days before Monday’s meeting to try and work things out. What’s the rush…or why the rush? Shouldn’t the public fully vet this project? Especially given the recent events surrounding the Osprey stadium site?

What is the “common vision” for this project? Did that all come out in this one public committee meeting and two news articles over the last 2 1/2 weeks?

Missoula economist and all-too-infrequent-4&20 contributor Ross Keogh offers on interesting concession that I’d think should be wholeheartedly considered – with some vetting with the council, the community and the CBC: The leasing of the site to the developer. That would garner quite a monetary incentive to the developer with the reduction in property tax rate which would have the development only taxed on improvements and not the publicly-owned land.

How can Missoula even see a community benefit to this project and why are we considering granting these guys a right of first refusal agreement when they refuse to even discuss the project with the members of the community and the CBC? What exactly are the “obvious benefits” to which city council refers?

Let’s take some time to define those and see that the community is on the same page.

Bozeman has a developer begging on them to sell them a $2.3 million property downtown that would require them to tear down a garage before they build their exclusive hotel…and Missoula’s racing to give away a rivefront parcel already scraped and ready to develop just a few short months after having bought back its own property on the opposite side of the riverbank.

All without even a guarantee of living wage paying jobs.

Conservatives and liberals alike should look very carefully at any development wishing free things – including this exclusive agreemen – when the only thing they’ve dangled out there is a market study that is a drivel of the price of the hotel they’ve somehow convince MRA they are capable of building.


  1. d.g.

    Five brave souls spoke against the “Osprey Boondoggle”. The room was filled to capacity with upper-middle-income white people gathered by Wes Spiker of Spiker Communications. The Fox site is already a high-rise hotel and the TIF money will flow like the Clarkfork because computer-screen-activists like those at 4 & 20 are just that: computer-screen-activists.

    • lizard19

      hello castigate, I’ve noticed you like throwing names around, and you like making assumptions about us here at 4&20.

      if you would really like to shame us arm chair activists, then by all means, tell us who you are and how you fight the good fight.

      or, you can continue being a coward taking shots at people through your computer.

  2. Chuck

    The taxpayer does not need to give the Averills any free land. The city needs to hire a smart negotiator. The council and the MRA is way out of their league here.

  3. Pogo Possum

    Whats the matter with you d.g.?

    Haven’t you learned that only lizard is allowed to throw names around, and make assumptions about people on 4&20?

    • Well, him and JC, that is.

      • mr benson

        We need a really bad guy to get us dyslexics untied.

        Yeah plenty of people will promise you the sun, moon and stars. I’m not keen on “true community benefit” but “true market value” seems a reasonable request. Sort of statutory, too, although a non profit might be able to acquire it for less than MV,

        A healthy downtown would be a true community benefit.

        Let the TIF provide some incentives after the developer puts his money down, and goes thru the process, and has a lot, like all in, skin in the game. NOT up front.

        Just my nsho.

  4. lizard19

    in talking to someone today, they wondered if there was even demand for a high-end project like what’s being proposed, or if this is purely a build it and they will come (from California maybe?) pie in the sky kind of project.

    I know how badly some here in Missoula want this town to be like Boulder, CO, but watching city officials contemplate willingly grabbing their ankles for this project is a bit troubling.

    I agree with Chuck.

    also, great post j-girl.

    • There is also the possibility that the Florence Hotel would be turned back into a high-end Hotel/Condominium building. The fact that two such projects are in the early planning stages shows that these kinds of projects are believed viable by someone with lots of money to invest. Real estate money is looking for somewhere to go, and it sure isn’t getting put into building new subdivisions and strip malls.

      • lizard19

        yes, sweet gentrification. but is the Babs full? and how about that posh triangle at the confluence of Brooks and Higgins?

        this project is fantastic. it could be like rich people catnip. maybe that way, we could lure some deep wallets from Bozeman, you know, people who can actually afford half the little shops downtown instead of them just shipping us their mentally ill and other impoverished undesirables.

        • true… but these projects, even if in the beginning planning phases now, are still years off, so I’m sure the thinking from the developers is that by the time their projects are completed the market will be on the upswing again. More people need to have a positive view of the future and actually make investments like this, otherwise money goes hiding and does no one any good.

          • Giving it away and not providing assurances for living-waged jobs is a step backwards.

            Anything adding 100’s of less-than-living-waged jobs to this community stresses the housing and economy.

            Jobs for the sake of jobs is dangerous, and has gotten us to this point of economic chaos. The stadium, despite all kinds of red flags, was pushed forward and look where that got us.

          • lizard19

            if this was a private investment, that would be one thing. I have a feeling more than a few people lost lots of money on the condo craze when the housing market imploded, like those weird condos near 3rd and Ivy above the hair salon and payroll data, and the condo high-rise near the mall.

            and that’s how it should be. investment is risk, and in the real world when the risk factor bites you in the ass, you eat the loss.

            this developing (to use j-girl’s term) boondoggle already features some slick expectations on the developer’s side, while the city seems to be holding their cards with a weak wrist.

            that needs to change.

  5. lizard19

    here is one way to look at things optimistically:

  6. SeenClearly

    One key question: How can the developer even know how to formulate a market study, i.e. cost/benefit analysis, without a keener understanding of the costs of river(front) protection and all the associated infrastructure that the community is going to demand based on the downtown plan?

    • Chuck

      This development won’t spend a penny on any of that work . They want the land for free and for you to pay them. It’s just like the Old Millsite, Smurfit, the old Intermountain Lumber site (that these same guys are in on) , the Silvertip Apartments, Homeword the list is endless how they spend other people’s money. Don’t forget that after buying the ballpark, you are probably going to pay for tearing down the old Trails End across the street and if there is any contaminated soil, lead or asbestos you will pay to clean that up. The old Macy’s building demolition grant seeking is soon to come I’m sure.
      Better get out your checkbook folks as it is going to be a busy year giving your tax money to the wealthy developers.

  7. jackruby

    What Missoula really needs is a good old monorail.

  8. d.g.

    orry, John: Missoula is populated by NPR Activists (they write a check and chuckle at Garrison Keillor) and computer-screen wannabees (see 420 Blackbirds). Never have many over 35 in this pretender town cared in anything but theory about the air. And, btw, our air is MADE here by healthy trees; whining about CO2 emissions without simultaneously protecting our green canopy is naivete, if not stupidity.

    Read more: http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/mailbag/join-effort-to-protect-future-by-reducing-us-carbon-emissions/article_ad519752-1de4-11e1-9162-001871e3ce6c.html?mode=comments#ixzz1g1BL28sT

  9. Great piece, Jhwygirl. Hasn’t the people involved here read any of David Cay Johnston’s books, “Perfectly Legal” and “Free Lunch”? It chronicles all the various swindles that private enterprise foists on the citizens of counties and towns.

    Have we learned nothing from the Occupy movement? We need more public space not less.

    And who pays for somebody else’s market study? I don’t get it.




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