Structural concerns over old Merc prompt partial closure of Higgins

The Garden City Drug Building, which was one of the older portions of the Missoula Mercantile, showed signs of a partial collapse on Monday morning, prompting police to close a portion of Higgins Avenue. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

City officials shut down a block of Higgins Avenue early Monday over concerns stemming from the structural integrity of what remains of the Missoula Mercantile.

Police cordoned off each end of the 100 block of Higgins at around 8 a.m., diverting traffic elsewhere through the city.

“There were concerns about the building that’s standing,” said Chief Mike Brady. “The back of the building has to be stabilized.”

Concerns surround that portion of the Mercantile known as the Garden City Drug Building, or the pharmacy. The structure represents one of the oldest portions of the larger Mercantile and was included in the development agreement between the city and Mercantile LLC.

In that agreement, the City Council obligated the developer to retain the pharmacy building and include it into the overall plans to construct a Marriott hotel on the property.

Police shut down a block of Higgins Avenue early Monday over concerns stemming from the structural integrity of the pharmacy portion of the Missoula Mercantile, seen in the background on the left. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The agreement also called upon the developers to require all contractors to carry builder’s risk insurance, as well as performance bonds pertaining to the developer’s obligation to retain the pharmacy.

A portion of the building’s east end showed signs of a partial but sustained collapse. Officials said there were no immediate concerns of a total structural failure.

“They need to shore up the building,” said Mike Haynes, director of Development Services. “They were confident they could shore up the building and do whatever they’ve got to do to contain it.”

Police had opened up the southbound lanes on Higgins Avenue to two-way traffic by 10 a.m., though the westbound lanes remain closed until further notice. The sidewalk closest to the structure also remains closed, and fire crews have been stationed at the property.