By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The City Council's Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with the Missoula Food Bank to first lease, then purchase a portion of its new facility, part of which would be used to offer a nutrition education program.

Now months in the making, the agreement allows the city to lease roughly 1,200 square feet in the Food Bank's new Wyoming Street facility and finish the space using $298,000 in tax increment financing through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

The city would then sublease the finished space to the SpectrUM Discovery Area for $1 a year for eight years. That would accommodate a proposed nutrition education program for children and families who utilize the Food Bank's services.

“MRA is providing assistance to the Food Bank and SpectrUM to finish out the space the city is leasing,” said Annette Marchesseault, development coordinator with MRA. “The building is owned by the Food Bank, but the city will own a condo portion of that building. The reason is to keep it a public space.”

Because the Food Bank is using New Market Tax Credits to build its new $6.1 million building, it cannot sell the small condo portion of the building for at least seven years.

When the New Market Tax Credits expire, however, the city will purchase the space at fair market value, less its $298,000 investment. At that point, the city will continue to lease the space either to spectrUM or to another nonprofit that meets the Food Bank's mission.

The $298,000 in funding will come from available funds within Urban Renewal District II. The money includes $216,000 for construction costs and $82,000 for exhibits.

“The motivation for this is to position the city to use tax increment funds to finish out the space so spectrUM can occupy it and provide nutrition education for kids,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “That keeps it in public ownership in perpetuity and allows us to ensure that whatever kind of education activities make sense there can continue there.”

The effort to draft an acceptable lease agreement began last August, when the city first proposed the agreement.

Back then, Aaron Brock, executive director of the Missoula Food Bank, and Holly Truitt, head of SpectrUM, said the agreement presented the community with some unique educational opportunities, including those focused on nutrition.

The Administration and Finance Committee unanimously approved the agreement on Wednesday. The full City Council will cast its final vote on the issue next Monday night.

“There's a stigma attached with going to the Food Bank to get groceries,” said Ward 5 council member Julie Armstrong. “This provides another entry or reason for folks to go to the Food Bank, whether they're taking cooking classes or they're kids looking at exhibits in the museum. It's another way of letting folks go in there without feeling ashamed about going to the Food Bank.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at