Building up: Contemporary gallery wins funding assistance as downtown project nears

A rendering of the future Radius Gallery on Higgins Avenue.

A local couple’s plans to build a $2.8 million building to serve as a gallery of contemporary art in downtown Missoula won $146,000 in funding assistance on Thursday, the final hurdle before construction begins later this year.

The request, submitted by Treehouse LLC – owned by Karen and Brian Sippy – was approved by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of directors during its monthly meeting.

The new building, a 7,200 square-foot structure clad in brick and steel, will rise on the site formerly occupied by the Uptown Diner. Treehouse was granted the right to proceed with deconstruction last month.

“Both the location and building have changed many times throughout history,” said Chris Behan, assistant MRA director. “The most recent portion of the building you see there now was built in the 1950s.”

According to MRA, the property has been occupied by a number of businesses and buildings dating back to 1884, if not longer. The businesses have included a pharmacy, butcher and sausage production, a jewelry store, and photography and framing shop.

The Uptown Diner moved into the space in 1992 and closed earlier this year. The new two-story structure and basement will serve as the home of the Radius Galley, which will leave its current location on Main Street for Higgins Avenue once construction wraps up.

“They hope to make the basement perhaps an art storage facility,” Behan said. “It looks like there’s a great need for certain types of art storage.”

The funding request includes replacing the sidewalk along Higgins Avenue, along with work in the alley and all service lines, such as water and sewer. The work also includes an upgraded utility system to bring modern power to the downtown block.

Behan said the project likely represents the next wave of downtown development – building up to increase the efficiency of land use. That includes overcoming the high costs of resolving utility issues and redevelopment in the downtown corridor.

“The next wave of development will be looking at these smaller buildings and trying to figure out how to maximize their use, either through expansion up or down,” said Behan. “We have a very confined area, and if we want to keep growing, it means we need to do it more in this type of fashion.”