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Due diligence on proposed acquisition of federal building could start soon

The federal building in downtown Missoula as it looked in 1913. The property has sat vacant for five years, and city and county officials have proposed acquiring the facility as a hub of local government services.

Efforts to acquire the vacant federal building in downtown Missoula as a hub of government services continue to move forward, and city and county officials remain optimistic in the outcome.

Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer, told city and county officials in a joint meeting Thursday that efforts to finish a request for proposals are “going very well.”

“The timeline seems to be moving ahead quickly, which is the stage we want to be in,” he said. “From our federal partners, they’ll be able to run a couple of the processes concurrently.”

City and county officials last March sent a letter to the Denver region of the Government Services Administration expressing interest in using the vacant building under what’s known as the Good Neighbor program.

For that to happen, the GSA has to complete a number of steps related to the property’s disposal, including its use as housing or by another federal agency.

Experts have suggested that retrofitting the historic structure for housing would be cost prohibitive. Nor has any federal agency occupied the facility since the Forest Service left in 2015.

Lounsbury said the federal steps toward disposition are moving along simultaneously, including those related to the Good Neighbor program. Under that agreement, the National Park Service could declare the historic property a national monument.

If that occurs, local government would receive the facility for free in exchange for the property’s long-term care. Lounsbury said the city and county are prepared to begin due-diligence when the time comes.

“Their hope was that we’d be able to get the RFP out in June to have a contractor on in the July time frame to do the due-diligence phase of the project,” he said. “That would run concurrently with working toward the application toward the designation with the National Park Service, were the building to transfer under that process.”

The Missoula federal building opened in 1913 and served as the headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service for more than 100 years. It underwent an expansion in the 1930s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

But the Forest Service relocated from its downtown headquarters to Fort Missoula in 2015, and since then the building has remained mostly empty. Both the city and county have set aside funding to complete due diligence ahead of any future agreement.

County commissioners have said that various county offices could be consolidated, including the commissioners’ office, Community & Planning Services, Missoula County Public Works, Risk and Benefits, and others.

Given the lack of space at the county’s current downtown location, it currently leases property around the city to house various departments. City government is in a similar situation in that it occupies multiple sites.

Local officials sent a letter to the GSA last year saying the 90,000-square-foot federal building has enough space to accommodate nearly all branches of local government, providing something of a one-stop shop for public services.