Asbestos removal nearly finished in Mercantile

Work to remove asbestos from the Missoula Mercantile is moving forward on schedule and could be completed by the end of next week, the project’s developer said Friday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

Work to remove asbestos from the Missoula Mercantile is moving forward on schedule and could be completed by the end of next week, the project’s developer said Friday.

What happens after that will depend on the outcome of a District Court decision regarding a preservation group’s efforts to block redevelopment of the vacant property.

“We expect to be completed with environmental abatement work, if not next Friday, then by the following week,” said Andy Holloran. “We’re on track with that, and we’re looking forward to a timely ruling from the judge. Hopefully, it goes in our favor and we can more forward with our plan.”

Holloran, head of HomeBase Montana, won approval from the city earlier this year to deconstruct most of the Mercantile and build a $35 million Marriott hotel on the site.

The agreement requires the developer to leave the pharmacy portion of the building intact and adhere to designs already presented to the city. It also requires HomeBase to place a bond on the project to ensure the hotel is built once the Mercantile is deconstructed.

Before that happens, however, a Missoula District Court judge will decide a lawsuit filed by Preserve Historic Missoula. The preservation group filed the suit in August seeking to stop demolition work.

Last month, the city and the developer asked the court to dismiss the group’s suit, saying its members were attempting to scuttle a private owner’s right to develop his property, as permitted by the city’s zoning regulations.

However, District Judge Dusty Deschamps opted to hear the case. Briefs are due before the court next week and a hearing is expected to follow shortly after.

In the meantime, Holloran said asbestos work will go on until the building’s interior, which is little more than a shell at this point, is environmentally safe. Much of the remaining asbestos lies in the membrane of the roof.

“In the inside – the interior – a lot of the casing around the windows, and some of the remaining drywall included asbestos,” Holloran said. “It was what we expected. You get that any time you have an older structure that’s been renovated and repurposed time and again.”

Holloran didn’t speculate on how the legal issue would resolve itself. But if the court allows the project to move forward, he said, his team is ready to begin the next phase.

“We’ll continue to work with the city to meet the criteria that was set forth in the development agreement, and we’ll continue to do that,” Holloran said. “Toward the end of the year, hopefully we’ll be in a position to begin the salvage and deconstruction process.”

Holloran said a deconstruction team has been selected, though the contract is pending the outcome of the court proceedings.

“Our goal has always been to try and repurpose as much of the building and material as we can in the new Merc,” said Holloran. “The remaining salvage material would be either donated to Home ReSource or distributed to the community.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com