Heart of Missoula: Missoula, Montana

Planning Excellence

It's the people, the places, and the partnerships that make the Heart of Missoula the thriving, vibrant center of the city and an outstanding destination for the Rocky Mountain West.

The Heart of Missoula is synonymous with the downtown and exists as a neighborhood of long-time residents, university students, local business owners, employees, art- and culture-seekers, market-goers, recreationists, and cherished visitors who intermingle and all have a role in Missoula, Montana's success story.

Hosted in Caras Park, the Garden City BrewFest is the perfect opportunity for the community to embrace spring weather and enjoy favorite local and regional craft beers. Photo courtesy Missoula Downtown Association.

Through vision, planning, diligence, and ambition, the Heart of Missoula has overcome many challenges to retain its stature as an outstanding example of a mid-sized city successfully preparing for new opportunities while also honoring its roots and sense of community.

With the development of the automobile-oriented suburban Southgate Mall in the 1970s, downtown Missoula saw a mass exodus of businesses. City leaders began to rectify this by implementing a tax-increment financing system that ended up raising more than $20 million to invest in downtown improvements. This was leveraged to obtain more than $200 million in additional public and private investment.

Following the success of Missoula's renewal efforts, a Downtown Business Improvement district was formed to make sure that the Heart of Missoula was clean, safe, and economically viable. In 2008, the BID and the private sector led a push to develop a forward-thinking Greater Downtown Missoula Master Plan. The inclusive process had close to 3,000 participants and established a vision for land use and circulation, employment, housing, parking, retail, and tourism. With support from the community and business owners, the plan was met with widespread praise and unanimously approved by the city council.

With more than $850 million in investment taking place now and planned for the near future, the Downtown Master Plan team has launched a campaign to update the Downtown Master Plan in 2018. In the meantime, the Missoula community has embarked upon a process to create design guidelines for downtown and the city's travel corridors.

The Clark Fork River runs through the heart of Missoula and provides easy access to fishing, kayaking, rafting, and tubing, along with picnicking and strolls along the River Trail, all within walking distance of downtown. Photo courtesy Craig McCollum.

Defining Characteristics and Features

  • Downtown Missoula's most defining feature is the Clark Fork River, which runs through the Heart of Missoula.
  • Caras Park, which features Missoula's Carousel and Dragon's Playground, also draws close to 500,000 visitors each year at signature events such as Garden City Brewfest, Missoula Marathon, Celtic Festival, Symphony in the Park, Germanfest, and many more.
  • Major plans are under way to revitalize a former waste disposal site and industrial area adjacent to the river. The $150 million Riverfront Triangle Development will construct the largest conference center in the region and include housing for all income levels; space for offices, retail, and hospitality; and improved riverfront parks and trails.
  • The 20-acre Old Sawmill District across the river, formerly a lumber mill, is a planned urban neighborhood coming to fruition.
  • Park Place, an international award-winning parking structure, is a model of mixed-use sustainable development. Built in 2013, it provides 333 parking spaces, includes a locally owned market and restaurant. It also features 85-kw solar photovoltaic panels on the roof that provide 80 percent of the energy needs of the building, local art, and recently installed electric vehicle charging stations.
  • In 2015, the City of Missoula, the Missoula Art Museum, and the nonprofit Adventure Cycling formed a public-private partnership to create the Missoula Art Park as a new city park. The Art Park design enhances the pedestrian experience with features including street furniture, bike racks, greenery, and a rotating selection of sculptures curated by the Missoula Art Museum.

By the Numbers

  • 625 new residential units built in downtown since 2015
  • $618 million invested in real estate development in downtown from 2013–2018
  • $63 million Invested in public infrastructure improvements from 2015–2020
  • 1.56 million Mountain Line rides in 2016, which includes a 70 percent increase in zero-fare ridership from 2015–2016
  • 36 downtown buildings on the National Historic Register
  • 28 public art pieces in Downtown Missoula

Designated Area

The Heart of Missoula and the gateways into downtown include, on the south side of the Clark Fork River, the riverfront parks and trails, the Old Sawmill District, and the Hip Strip; and on the north side of the river to the railroad tracks, the east to west corridor essentially from Russell Street past Van Buren Street.

The River City Roots Festival celebrates Missoula's arts and culture, healthy living, sustainability, and local foods and beverages. Fun for the whole family, it is sponsored by more than 30 Missoula-area businesses. Photo courtesy Athena Photography/Missoula Downtown Association.

Web Resources

Downtown Master Plan

Destination Missoula

City of Missoula

Downtown Business Improvement District of Missoula

Missoula Economic Partnership

Heart of Missoula