Future building for Radius Gallery on Higgins Ave. gets funding nod from MRA

Renderings shared by MMW Architects on Thursday show plans for the downtown property most recently occupied by the Uptown Diner. The Radius Gallery will occupy the new building once it’s constructed. (MMW Architects)

Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula will see its second new building begin construction this summer as a contemporary art gallery prepares to occupy the site formerly home to the Uptown Diner.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors on Thursday gave the property’s new owners, Karen and Brian Sippy, the right to proceed with deconstruction of the old diner and replace it with a new two-story building.

“They plan on removing the building and building a two-story art gallery with some mixed other uses on the second floor,” said Chris Behan, assistant director of MRA. “But they’re getting caught up in an issue that has dogged a lot of other developments in this area for a long time, and that’s trying to use the first power net in the power system in Missoula.”

The developers plan on applying for tax increment financing later this year once issues surrounding the block’s power grid is resolved. No dollar figure has been set for reimbursement, though MRA said it would likely be restricted to deconstruction, sidewalks and utilities.

Until those costs are known, MRA gave the developers a green light to move forward.

“We’re really hoping to get under construction later this summer, but we’re caught up trying to figure out this utility question and what it’s going to cost,” said Don MacArthur of MMW Architects, which is representing the builders. “We’re trying to get the drawings done in July and start building in August.”

Behan said the utility system that feeds that section of downtown Missoula is cluttered and antiquated. The power poles also include a tangle of communication lines that serve unknown properties.

Once the situation is resolved, the improvements could be tapped by neighboring properties.

“It’s been upgraded over the years, but there’s still inadequate power and strange voltages and so on in the power poles there,” Behan said. “The Mercantile hotel had to run new lines all the way down to the power station.”

The Sippys purchased the Uptown Diner property from Midblock LLC and plan to construct a two-story structure on the property. When it opens next year, the Radius Gallery will leave its current location on Main Street and take its place on Higgins Avenue.

The gallery, owned by Lisa Simon and Jason Neal, is celebrating its fourth anniversary this summer.

“We’ll get a lot more space and be able to represent more artists,” Simon told the Missoula Current in March. “That’s what we’re most excited about. It’ll give more breadth to contemporary art and really demonstrate what’s out there in contemporary art.”