Movin’ on up: ALPS Corp. gutting top floors of Florence ahead of expansion

David Bell, president and CEO of the ALPS Corporation, stands on the top floor of the Florence Building in downtown Missoula. The company is renovating the upper floors to make room for the hiring of more local employees ahead of plans to expand into a dozen new states. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The top two floors of the Florence Building will find a new look and future as renovations take place to make room for a national insurance company that’s looking to expand into a dozen new states, and add new jobs in Missoula to oversee the  growth.

Like several other local companies, ALPS has chosen to double down on Missoula as it considers the future. The company currently claims 68 employees in Missoula, though that will increase this year.

“ALPS has and continues to grow, and we’ve already had a number of new hires identified in our budget for the first half of this year,” said David Bell, the company’s president and CEO. “As an organization, we’re launching what I’d call a significant expansion into multiple other states. That will all be done from a centralized environment here in Missoula.”

To make room for that growth, the company will move from the second floor of the Florence Building to occupy the sixth and seventh floors by October.

Reclamation work began on the top two floors earlier this month, salvaging oak doors and trim and other hardware from roughly 15,000 square feet of office space furnished in the 1980s. Portions of the structure traces its roots to the building’s construction in the 1940s, including vintage Post Office boxes and mail chutes.

Historic features stemming from the building’s construction in the 1940s will be incorporated into the renovations, including the historic Post Office boxes. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Standing amid the demolition work – and a recent paint-ball war – Bell said the reusable materials are carted each night to the garage, where employees are free to take what they want. What remains is sent to local home recycling centers for reuse.

The demolition work is expected to wrap up in the coming weeks, setting the stage for a “rustic modern” renovation.

“Once the demolition is done, it’s literally down to the original cement frame from 1940 when the building was constructed,” Bell said Thursday. “Everything is pulled out, and there’s nothing but the frame. A&E (architects) and Tony Martel (Martel Construction) have done a great job, and we feel good about our progress so far.”

The first iteration of the Florence Building was constructed at the same location in 1888, but burned in 1913. Its replacement burned again in 1936. The current building dates to 1941 and still bears the Florence name – that being the wife of A.B. Hammond, who built the first hotel in 1888.

The ALPS Corporation has owned the building for more than a decade and has already made several investments to restore the lobby to its original look. Last year, ALPS also repainted the building’s exterior, along with other improvements.

Bell said renovations to the top two floors will now enable ALPS to embrace its future.

“We’re building to suit the next phase of this company,” he said. “It’s a totally different look, because it’s a totally different culture and chapter for the ALPS of tomorrow.”

The upper floors were recently occupied by Worden Thane PC, which has since relocated to the new Stockman Bank building on West Broadway. When ALPS moves to the upper floors, it will open the second floor up for a new tenant.

That could include several of the Florence Building’s current tenants, several of whom are growing quickly. LumenAd, a technology company based in digital advertising, began with only a handful of employees but has since grown to occupy the building’s entire fifth floor.

Submittable has also grown to occupy more space, buying up offices as they become available to occupy the third floor. The company also works on the technology front, helping others manage digital content.

“We’ve stumbled onto a technology hub here, which is kind of cool for the old, classic Florence Building,” Bell said. “There was some intention to do that when we pulled the fiber in for a full gig up-down to make this building attractive to technology companies. You can’t get any faster Internet than you can in this building.”

Missoula’s national reputation as a tech hub has grown in recent years, as have several local companies, and Bell has observed the changes with an optimistic outlook on the city’s future.

Bell described the planned renovations as “rustic modern,” a change from the 1980s feel of the upper floors, which were most recently occupied by Worden Thane PC. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Down the street, Advanced Technology Group recently celebrated the hiring of its 100th Missoula employee. EduLog continues to grow as well, and ClassPass – a technology-based fitness company with offices in New York and San Francisco – is opening its third North American office in Missoula this month.

“Missoula is a special place, and I do think that you can sum up the reason why the people who anchor companies here and have committed to stay here and grow here is because of that,” Bell said. “Oftentimes, it’s in spite of the other headwinds we often talk about here.

“Missoula is made up of a very unique chemistry of people who have different ideologies, world views and priorities in life, but everybody remains friends and coexists. That’s what makes Missoula awesome.”

Much of that activity has been centered in downtown Missoula, a place Bell believes is well positioned for growth and future industries.

Just across Higgins Avenue, the newest downtown resident is gaining stature as construction of the Mercantile hotel continues. The pedestrian commerce, dining options and general activity taking place on the streets gives the city center a vibrant atmosphere, Bell said.

It is, he added, a worthy place to invest.

“There’s a vitality that exists in our urban downtown, and it’s growing,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things going on in many places in Missoula, but I don’t know that there’s any place in Missoula that has as high a concentration of energy and activity and new investment as our downtown.”