Saying the city’s population has nearly tripled since City Hall was constructed in 1969, members of the City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement with Missoula County to conduct due diligence on the downtown federal building and whether it could serve as a new home for local government.
The city and county have been eyeing the historic building as a potential remedy to their spacial needs now for several years. Last week, the GSA deemed the building surplus property, opening the door for the city and county to possibly acquire the building for free.
“We have the potential to acquire it at no cost with the commitment to maintain it as a national historic monument,” said John Adams of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “It’s potentially an amazing opportunity, but in order to take the next steps, we need to do due diligence.”
Seeing the potential, members of the City Council agreed to authorize an interlocal agreement with Missoula County to spend up $100,000 to complete due diligence. Adams said the process would take a deep look at the building and it’s integrity. It would also estimate the cost of repairs, maintenance needs and the general cost of renovation.
Other issues around accessibility and parking would be explored, along with other solutions to the city and county’s spacial needs.
“There’s going to be other moving parts if we proceed with this,” Adams said. “What happens with City Hall if we move many of the city functions over to the federal building? If we don’t acquire the federal building, given that we have an urgent need for more space right now, how are we going to solve those problems?”
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.
“This is an older building and it’s going to take people rolling up their shirt sleeves to figure out how to make it work,” said council member Gwen Jones. “I think the location in downtown Missoula is amazing, and to be in the same physical structure as county government would be. Preserving a beautiful historical monument in downtown Missoula is of high value.”
Given the building’s age, it’s likely to contain asbestos and lead based paint, some noted. Adams said due diligence would identify such things and help answer the cost of mitigation.
“Those are the concerns we need to investigate and put numbers on,” he said. “We’re going to have to open up a discussion with GSA and potentially other federal partners on how best to address those issues without simply taking on the costs ourselves.”
Missoula’s population was 30,000 people when City Hall was build in 1969. It’s now more than 75,000 and it’s expected to grow incrementally in the coming years. Both the city and county are spread across several locations, paying multiple leases to satisfy their spacial needs.
Securing the federal building could create a one-stop government shop and open up other downtown properties for redevelopment.
“Acquiring the federal building gives us the opportunity to preserve something really important, to fill 100,000 vacant square feet downtown, and to build synergy with the county and inter departmentally in the city,” Adams said.