By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
After traipsing through a muddy construction site in downtown Missoula, Bob Burns stepped to the railing on the top floor of the new Stockman Bank building and took in the views.
High above the rumble of traffic, with the copper dome of the Missoula County Courthouse standing at eye level and the bells of St. Francis Xavier Church marking the afternoon hour, Burns considered the task of moving the bank’s $30.6 million project to completion.
“We’re on schedule,” he said, taking in the city below. “The estimated completion date is December of this year to occupy the building, both for the bank and our tenant.”
It was last March when a group of community leaders and bank executives gathered on the corner of West Broadway and Woody Street to break ground on the new facility, one that’s aiming for a platinum rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Thirteen months later, the structure has taken its place on the downtown corner, where crews continue the task of wiring and welding, hoisting windows into place, and hammering out the duct work that will heat and cool more than 55,000 square feet of office space.
“We’re really trying to make this a business center, not just for the bank, but for our tenants and the community that will come here and utilize this space,” said Burns, who serves as the bank’s Missoula market president. “The bank has a lot of confidence in western Montana. As we continue to grow, this becomes a western Montana hub for Stockman Bank.”
If the bank’s leadership, headed by the Coffee family based in Billings, has placed the company’s largest state office in Missoula based upon projected opportunity, chances are good the team has done its homework.
As evidenced from the building’s roof, construction is booming across the city, where the unemployment rate remains at a scant 3.4 percent and a new crop of upstart technology companies are making headway, competing for employees and eyeing the future.
Cranes rise above the city skyline – out on Front Street, over in the Old Sawmill District and down in the Midtown neighborhood. More than $245 million in building permits were issued last year, and the momentum is expected to continue as the city grows and new projects come online.
“Just look around Missoula and look at the construction going on – it’s as strong as I’ve seen it in the 20 years of being in banking,” said Burns. “Stockman Bank has been looking to Missoula for a number of years. “We have a lot of existing clients here in Missoula. The Coffee family decided to come into Missoula about three years ago. It’s a dynamic city and people want to live here. It’s a great place to be.”
The bank and its three-level parking garage, complete with 140 stalls, marks one of the largest developments to land in downtown Missoula, placing it alongside the new $25 million student housing project on Front Street and the $30 million Marriott project on Higgins Avenue.
It also represents a successful public-private partnership that saw the Missoula Redevelopment Agency contribute roughly $1.5 million to raze the property’s old buildings, relocate public utilities and make improvements to the public right of way.
Along with plans for the Riverfront Triangle, which sits below across Orange Street, the activity is expected to reshape and extend the western end of the downtown district. The bank alone will generate an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 a year in new property taxes.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest in downtown redevelopment, and we hope that means it’s becoming more attractive for businesses like this,” MRA board member Daniel Kemmis said recently. “This is a major addition to the quality of downtown.”
Burns said the bank plans to employ 40 workers at its downtown headquarters. The bank will occupy the first and second floors while the third floor will be leased to the Worden Thane law firm, which specializes in business, real estate and general litigation.
The third floor is currently being shelled out in preparation for its new tenants while the bank searches for tenants to occupy the fourth and fifth floors. The top floor will be open for community use.
“We’re currently in the process of trying to lease the fourth and fifth floors, which we have a lot of interest in,” said Burns. “People want to be in downtown Missoula. We’re able to offer significant parking for them, as well as some great amenities within the bank.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com