Missoula County, city close to completing downtown federal building acquisition

The city and county of Missoula have long expressed interest in using the downtown federal building as a hub of government services. That would help consolidate government offices and free up other downtown properties for redevelopment. (Missoula Current)

After months of due diligence and an engineering assessment, the City of Missoula will consider a formal proclamation in the coming weeks stating its intent to preserve the historic status of the old downtown federal building.

Doing so would result in the formal transfer of the property from the federal government to the city and county of Missoula. The building would come free of charge in exchange for its long-term care.

The National Park Service has granted the city and county more time to complete their end of the process.

“We did get that extension and we’re working on the city side on due diligence,” said Dale Bickell, the city’s chief administrative officer. “While we don’t have a firm go or no-go recommendation yet, we’re largely through feasibility, which looks really great on solving city and county needs.”

The city and county of Missoula have long expressed interest in using the building as a hub of government services. That would help consolidate government offices and free up other downtown properties for redevelopment, they believe.

The two governments are hoping to receive the federal property through the Good Neighbor Program operated by the National Park Service. Bickell said the program requires a commitment by both city and county government.

“One of the requirements of the application process is a resolution from the governing bodies that would make certain commitments. That was the impetus of the extension we asked for,” Bickell said. “In order to do that, we’ll have to have the conceptual designs pretty well cooked, but also our financing plans together.”

The federal government listed the mostly vacant building as surplus property in early 2020. The designation cleared the way for the city and county to begin due diligence on the building’s integrity. It also commenced a design review on how the two governments would consolidate services.

A&E completed its initial assessment of the building last year and is working with local government to develop a programming plan. Bickell said the design assessment continues, but is showing positive results.

“It seems to be working very well,” he said. “We’ll have a formal presentation to council on that in the coming weeks. We’re also building the estimated cost at getting the occupants in there.”

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

While consolidation plans haven’t been specified yet, early discussions could move a number of offices to the facility, including municipal court, planning services, the police department, clerk and recorder, and other offices that interface with the public.

Those details are expected in the coming weeks, Bickell said.

“We get to propose some sort of conveyance from the NPS for the acceptance,” Bickell said. “We’re excited to be a part of that. We’ll ask City Council to ask us to apply for this later this summer.”

A move into the facility could make space occupied by the city and county in the downtown district available for other uses, though exactly which properties may depend on the final consolidation plan.

The city is working on a capital improvements plan that could see other departments move or consolidate as well, freeing up more government-owned properties including Missoula Water and Public Works on West Broadway.

“The plans are all coming together at the same time and could help inform the city’s overall capital improvements plan,” Bickell said. “We’re building our calendar around a June council meeting to adopt a resolution.”