Changes to an agreement between Hotel Fox Partners and the city was placed on a fast track over the weekend to accommodate a new partnership between the developers and Clark Fork Riverfront Properties.
The latter is composed entirely of Stonefly LLC, owned by Nick and Robin Checota. The company owns and operates the Wilma, Kettlehouse Amphitheater and the Top Hat in Missoula.
While city officials were unavailable for comment Monday due to the holiday, documents released ahead of Wednesday’s special City Council meeting say an amended agreement has been reached governing the leasing and use of a conference center proposed with the Hotel Fox project.
The agreement now refers to the conference center as an events center.
“The modification to the basic deal would be that the focus on large conferences would change to other events such as music, lectures, trade shows, other performing arts like traveling Broadway plays, ballet, etc.,” Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, wrote in a memo released on Friday evening.
“Changing the main hall to a 60,000-square-foot facility accommodating an audience of up to 6,000 on the main floor and balconies would be a significant expansion of the variety of possible events that would greatly improve the sustainability of both the center and hotel.”
The City Council approved a master agreement in 2017, formalizing its partnership with Hotel Fox Partners. Under the agreement, Hotel Fox Partners will purchase the downtown property from the city and build a seven-story, 195-room hotel with restaurants and other amenities.
The project would also include three floors of condominiums located above the hotel. The developers also agreed to build a 60,000-square-foot conference center and a parking garage with 405 spaces.
In exchange, the city would purchase much of the conference center and parking garage back from the developers using tax increment financing. The city would then lease the conference center to the hotel chain, which would be responsible for management, maintenance and repair.
Behan said the amended agreement would see few changes to that original agreement. The hotel will include the same number of rooms and amenities. The upper floor condos would also remain intact, as would the number of underground parking spaces.
But rather than Hotel Fox Partners, the amendment would see Clark Fork Riverfront Properties (Stonefly) manage the events center. Behan said that would remove the city’s financial obligation to market and book the facility.
“Stonefly LLC … has been searching for an urban location for an indoor venue to host larger events, but smaller than those that may be located at the Civic Stadium,” Behan wrote. “Discussions between the two entities, MRA and the Mayor’s Office, has resulted in an amended deal that seems to be much more financially feasible, viable in the long term, and likely has even more economic impact to downtown and the entire community.”
Behan said most downtown hotels fill up during concerts at the Wilma and Kettlehouse Amphitheater. The events center could further spread that success to other hotels and services, the city believes.
A study conducted by the national planning firm Conventions Sports and Leisure in 2015 estimated the Missoula conference center alone would bring $14 million in direct economic impact to the community each year. The economic impact of an events center wasn’t immediately known.
The City Council in May approved a 12-month extension to its original development agreement with Hotel Fox Partners, giving the group more time to complete the financing and design of the hotel and conference center. The project is estimated at roughly $100 million.
This week, both MRA and the City Council will consider approving the amended contract and extending the deadline for submitting final construction documents from May to July 2020. The two bodies are scheduled to consider the amendment on Wednesday.
“The variety of events that the (events) center will be designed to feature will include types which do not have an adequate venue in Missoula, such as traveling Broadway shows and other performing arts, which require a large, appropriately equipped stage,” Behan wrote. “There are very few amendments in the documents necessary to complete the changes.”