Acquisition of old federal building could open downtown properties for redevelopment

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

The old federal building in downtown Missoula could become the new hub of local government, though the blend of services offered from the central facility have yet to be determined, county officials said this week.

The city and county of Missoula are the only two entities in line to acquire the vacant facility, which the federal government deemed as surplus property back in June.

“We’re in conversations with the city on how to take the next steps,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “Both us and the city will move there.”

For the past few years, the city and county have expressed interest in acquiring the facility and transforming the historic structure into a hub of government services.

In March 2019, the city and county sent a letter to the Denver region of the GSA expressing interest in using the vacant building under what’s known as the Good Neighbor program.

Under that program, the National Park Service would declare the historic property a national monument. Local government is in line to receive the facility for free in exchange for the property’s long-term care.

The city and county are exploring the cost of renovations.

“Both local governments have small teams doing a space needs assessment,” Slotnick said. “We’ll put that info together to decide whose going to go where.”

A move into the facility could make space occupied by the city and county in the downtown district available for other uses. Slotnick said the county has equity in at least properties near the courthouse and suggested it would make sense for the county to sell them first.

The city could also occupy the current county administrative building. It’s not yet known who will move where and what the city would do with its properties after the move.

“There could be some great economic development opportunity for downtown,” Slotnick said. “Some spaces are going to come open. Right in the heart of downtown, open space will be scooped up quickly.”

The city’s acquisition of 19 acres off Scott Street will enable the city to consolidate several departments, freeing up other city properties for redevelopment.

A future move into the old federal building isn’t the only consolidation of services that could free up other government-owned properties for redevelopment in Missoula.

Members of the City Council in August backed the $6.3 million purchase of 19 acres of former industrial land off Scott Street, calling it a strategic investment in the city’s future.

Roughly 10 acres will be developed into affordable housing while the remaining nine acres would enable the consolidation of the city’s Public Works Department. That in turn would free up at least two other city parcels totaling around 35 acres.

One of those parcels sits north of the Scott Street property while the other sits on West Broadway where Missoula Water is currently housed. Both parcels would be redeveloped for housing and a mix of other uses.

“If we realize something along those lines, there would be a number of really important benefits,” John Adams with the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development said in July.

“It would likely free up other properties for higher and better uses. Acquisition of those nine acres going to Public Works should free up these other dominoes and open up new opportunities that are really exciting for the city.”