Missoula County, city submit official letter of interest in old federal building

The federal building in downtown Missoula as it looked in 1913.

The city and county of Missoula will send a letter stating their official interest in acquiring the old downtown Federal Building through a national clause related to historic monuments.

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved the letter to the General Services Administration and Missoula Mayor John Engen is expected to sign it as well, placing an official cap on a request now years in the making.

“Missoula County and the City of Missoula would like to revitalize this underutilized resource,” the letter notes. “We plan to use the building for public services and government administrative offices while preserving the historic building for the people to observe and enjoy.”

The GSA this month deemed the old Federal Building as surplus property, clearing the way for public agencies to submit a notice of interest in the facility.

That process gives public entities or homeless housing programs first dibs on the property. But the building has sat empty for five years and the cost of renovation would likely make its use as housing impractical.

“That process closes on August 7 when screening for public entities and homelessness assistance will close,” one Missoula County employee said Tuesday. “At that point, we’ll know if anyone else has applied.”

While the facility’s use for housing would be a financial stretch, it may be well suited to serve as a hub of local government services, enabling the city and county to blend ranks in one location.

Members of the City Council have already agreed to authorize an interlocal agreement with Missoula County to complete due diligence on the property. That will take a deep look at the building and its integrity. It will also estimate the cost of repairs, maintenance needs and the general cost of renovation.

The city and county are asking for eight to 12 months to develop and submit a formal application to the National Park Service under statutes guiding the conveyance of historic national monuments.

“This time will allow us to conduct our due diligence for the building to ensure it is a wise investment of public funds and to develop the preservation, use and financial plans required by the National Park Service,” the letter states. “This time is also needed to conduct an assessment of the building and develop renovation plans that ensure the property will meet the space needs of the county and city.”

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.