Asbestos removal finished in Mercantile; court ruling pending

Whether this rendition of the hotel proposed for the Mercantile site in downtown Missoula becomes a reality hinges on a pending ruling in Missoula District Court.

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

A Montana firm looking to redevelop the Missoula Mercantile wrapped up its environmental abatement on Friday and will now wait for a ruling from Missoula District Court, one that holds sway over the property’s future.

Andy Holloran of HomeBase said work to remove asbestos from the vacant downtown building saw minor delays due to recent weather. But the work is now finished and what happens next is up to the court.

“We had to remove the calking off the windows – it was all contaminated with asbestos,” Holloran said. “We had to remove 20,000 square feet of drywall in the building, and the windows themselves to get the calking out of there. The roof is clean. We now have a Mercantile building that’s free of environmental contaminants.”

Missoula District Judge Dusty Deschamps is expected to rule rather soon on whether HomeBase can close on its $3.7 million purchase of the property and move forward with plans to construct a $35 million Marriott Hotel on the site.

HomeBase won project approval from the city last year, though a group of preservationists filed suit in an effort to block any deconstruction of the Mercantile. A representative with Boone Karlberg, which is representing the developers in the case, said it was unknown when Deschamps would issue his ruling.

Deschamps said in October it was his desire to settle the case in an “expeditious manner.”

“We’re hopeful the judge will rule soon,” Holloran said. “We’ve been able to keep our project together. We’ve got a great financing partner in Stockman Bank. We have a great hotel partner in the Marriott Corporation. We’re more excited than ever to see this project move forward, and see all the great things it will bring.”

Current plans call for a five-story hotel on the downtown corner, with 154 rooms and 24,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space.

Estimates suggest the project would bring 200 jobs to the community with an average annual payroll of $6 million, along with $8 million in direct tax benefits. Advocates also suggest it could place as many as 500 new patrons downtown each night.

If the court rules in the developers’ favor, Holloran said the project would move forward in compliance with a development agreement issued by the city.

“We’re now in a position to apply for and receive a partial demolition permit, per the terms of the development agreement,” Holloran said. “We’ve worked with various contractors, including Home ReSource, so we can begin the salvaging and the deconstruction process.”

Holloran believes the salvage project would take six to eight weeks to complete.

“We’d work to make the building safe, and Home ReSource would have free rein of the building to salvage as much material as physically possible,” said Holloran. “As part of our agreement, we’re going to attempt to use as much material as we can in the new Merc.”

Whatever can’t be used will be donated to Home ReSource, which would distribute the material throughout the community.

“The fact that the Merc is now free of contaminants is good for everyone,” Holloran said. “But I still believe this corner deserves an amazing project like this that brings the vibrancy to our downtown. It’ll offer great jobs, tax revenue, and bring people to that corner who will eat, drink and shop in our downtown.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com