Missoula’s whirlwind economic expansion has been the talk of the town since the end of the Great Recession, with new banks, restaurants, hotels and construction cranes popping up seemingly daily. But perhaps no single project embodies the city’s transformation more than the unveiling of plans last week by local businessman Nick Checota for a $100-million, 60,000-square-foot events center with a hotel, condos and restaurants overlooking the Clark Fork River downtown.
But Checota’s ambitious new project, integrated into a plan for developing the prime piece of downtown real estate that city planners have been working on for 30 years, stands out. That’s because, apart from the eye-popping price tag and visual design, its location on the downtown riverfront coupled with the fact that it will be utilized for public events that draw tourists will make it particularly influential on the community’s future, for better or worse.
Reactions to the plan range from a fear of change to a concern over parking to excitement for economic development. There are questions to be answered, such as whether Missoula’s ongoing development will “lift all boats” towards prosperity, as Mayor John Engen said last week, or if the new amenities