By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The developers behind a proposed $30 million hotel in downtown Missoula presented their evolving design on Wednesday, one that gives a nod to the block’s history and plays off several neighboring buildings.
Also on Wednesday, the Missoula Downtown Association placed its support behind HomeBase and it’s proposed Marriott custom hotel, saying the project would bring life back to a portion of the city that’s been hindered for years by the shuttered and deteriorating Mercantile.
Presenting to the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, Andy Holloran of HomeBase said the hotel project has evolved since it was publicly unveiled last month.
“We have continued to go back and research, analyze, draw and debate based upon feedback,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but I think the end result is better. I think the project is better now than it was a month ago.”
Holloran presented a redesigned five-story building that now incorporates a brick facade and more exterior relief. The retail space reserved for much of the ground floor on Higgins Avenue and Front Street includes more window glazing and framing reminiscent of the Mercantile.
Over the past few months, HomeBase and its architects have received their share of feedback regarding the project’s design. Holloran said many asked for masonry and texture over the previous design’s flat steel panels.
“When we began this process, we had a design in mind that met our goals,” said Holloran. “By trying to collaborate, compromise and work together, we have evolved. We took a self-critical look at where we were.”
Holloran said the new elements would give the proposed hotel vertical lines, a style that dominates both the Wilma and Florence buildings across the street. The hotel’s mews – an interior alley spanning the structure’s length – would also align with the main entrance of the Florence.
“What we’re taking about are the narrative influences that impact our downtown,” Holloran said. “We really want to be rooted to that. This is a more traditional, perhaps more conservative look, but one that’s timeless. We want to be here for the next 100 years.”
While HomeBase has not yet received an application to move forward, members of the City Council praised the evolving design, calling it an improvement over what was initially proposed early in the process.
Still, some asked the developers to repurpose as many elements of the Mercantile as possible if the project wins approval – something HomeBase has said it would do. They also sought assurance that the development would move forward once a demolition permit was issued.
“You’re asking for a demolition permit, and there’s nothing conditioned on what goes on after the permit,” said Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones. “This is Montana and lot of work is done on a handshake, and that’s kind of the faith people are putting into this.”
Holloran said HomeBase would work with the city to provide the assurance it was looking for.
“We’re wide open to any suggestion that you have to work together and bind us,” Holloran said. “At the end of the day, this is important to us. We don’t anticipate this being our last project in Missoula. We want to do something we can all be proud of.”
The Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled this week to consider the demolition permit for the Mercantile. As it does, the list of support for the downtown development continues to grow.
On Wednesday, the Missoula Downtown Association placed its support behind the project. The organization has worked for years to redevelop and occupy the vacant Mercantile, approaching such entities as Missoula College, the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, and the Missoula Public Library.
While none of the efforts panned out, the MDA said, the latest project could revitalize the block and ad new energy to the city’s core.
“The denigration of the (Mercantile) has been a terrible eyesore that is negatively impacting downtown Missoula in a variety of ways,” the MDA said in its letter of support. “Bringing commerce and life back to this location is a valiant goal. “
The MDA said the proposed project meets several goals written into the city’s Downtown Master Plan, including additional retail and restaurants, new lodging opportunities and employment. It also serves to extend pedestrian activity to areas off Higgins Avenue.
The organization said it was committed to helping HomeBase preserve the Mercantile’s historic values in a new project while bringing commerce back to the vacant block.
“Given the deterioration of the Mercantile building over the course of the last six years, MDA is grateful for the opportunity to redevelop that site into a thriving destination in downtown Missoula.”