Butte is in line for Planet Fitness and a “synergistic plaza” with 11 “major national tenants” of stores and restaurants, a developer told The Montana Standard on Thursday.
Dave Leon said he could not reveal the planned businesses other than Planet Fitness until leases are finalized, but called the plans for the South Harrison Avenue site the biggest influx of retail in Butte “in 30 or 40 years.” “
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see national stores coming to Butte that you have to shop in Helena right now,” said Leon, CEO of New York-based PF Management Group and owner and operator of all Planet Fitness Centers in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Latin America.
Dirt and clearing work is underway on the 17-acre vacant lot, located between two car dealerships on the east side of Harrison Avenue, just northwest of the Bert Mooney Airport runway.
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The Airport Authority Board sold the land to Leon more than a year ago, county officials confirmed Thursday.
JP Gallagher, Butte-Silver Bow CEO, said the county has been working with Leon for several years, but deferred any comment on detailed plans for Leon.
But Gallagher said: “We are excited about the opportunity this presents for our community. That’s what the community wants.”
Leon opened a Planet Fitness in Helena in 2016 and told The Standard in April 2017 that he plans new locations in Butte and four other Montana cities. The Butte store didn’t materialize in 2018 as hoped, but will be part of the new outdoor plaza, Leon said.
“There’s going to be a bunch of high-end fast-food outlets in the front, and there’s going to be 11 national tenants in the back,” he said.
Leon said he is opening a Planet Fitness in Bozeman and has plans for other Montana cities.
“So we’re doing a Planet Fitness in Butte along with a synergistic plaza that has a lot of the things you see in Bozeman — some big national tenants that you don’t have in Butte yet,” Leon said.
He said he had a major home improvement retailer as part of his plans for Butte, but the company had “got rid of” the one-yard line.
“It’s actually been a godsend for us because we’ve been able to get a much better tenant mix,” he said.
Planet Fitness is a franchisor and operator of fitness centers based in Hampton, New Hampshire, and now has approximately 2,400 locations in the United States, Latin America and Australia.
“I’m really happy to be a part of this Planet Fitness brand,” Leon said. “It gave me an opportunity to basically be an entrepreneur and buy real estate and bring in things (stores) that support our brand. But our brand also supports them.
“So it’s like a synergy and an ecosystem that works everywhere where we get these big national tenants that just help each other out, and the community is all the better for it,” he said.
Leon says he’s not just a large Planet Fitness franchisee, but an entrepreneur who owns most of its properties.
Although bulldozers and other heavy equipment are currently clearing the site, there is still much work to be done, he said.
“We have to bring $2 million worth of dirt in there just to fill the hole that was there on that property and bring it up to ground level,” he said. “That will take us until next May.
“Construction will really start in the spring for all these national tenants, but we’ll be making a big groundbreaking announcement, and I think I’ll probably even use my great-grandfather’s golden shovel that he used on his first project,” Leon said.
“We were going to put a traffic light in front of the place and we had to divide it into five lots,” he said. “We put sod on the sidewalks and the sidewalks will probably take us 120 days and then we’ll get into winter conditions and then when we’re done we’ll start going 100 mph next spring.”
The people of Butte have long been clamoring for more stores and shopping opportunities, and that only intensified in the last decade when JC Penney and Herberger’s closed along with several other stores in the Butte Plaza Mall.
When “economic development” comes up in public meetings, residents often complain about having to travel to Bozeman, Helena and Missoula for expansive retail shopping and wonder when such options will be available in Butte.
“It’s been asked probably more than anything else in the community,” Gallagher said.
Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.