Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The next step in taking ownership of the historic federal building in downtown Missoula advanced on Wednesday as the City Council agreed to consider a resolution creating a special district for the property.

John Adams, the city's director of strategic projects, said the Missoula Local Government Building Special District is needed to create a single-ownership entity between the city and Missoula County. That piece is required by the federal General Services Administration.

“The GSA, which manages the federal building, interprets the statute that establishes the historic surplus property program as requiring the transfer of that building to a single government entity,” Adams said. “We can't have joint ownership with Missoula County. This (resolution) would declare that the city plans to jointly create with Missoula County a special district to own the federal building.”

The City Council last year placed its unanimous support behind plans to accept the downtown federal building from the government. It also approved a memorandum of understanding with the county regarding future cost and care of the facility.

The two governments would move the bulk of their operations into the facility and share the cost of renovations and ongoing operational maintenance. A number of pieces have yet to be resolved, though Adams said the process is moving forward.

“We've entered the home stretch,” he said. “My best guess is that we'll take title to the building some time after the winter holidays. To get there on our part, we'll work through the required steps for creating a special district.”

The structure was built in phases between 1911 and 1938 and was listed on the National Historic Register in 1979. The city's Downtown Master Plan supports acquisition of the building, which could house up to 400 city and county employees by the end of 2024.

Once the city and county move in, they could recover some of their costs by selling their current properties, including City Hall and the county's administration building, among others. That issue hasn't been detailed but only discussed in passing. The Police Department still needs a home and won't be included in the federal building.

Currently, the building is largely vacant with the exception of the Post Office, which likely remain in the short term.

“We're working on a lease for them so they can stay in the short term,” said Adams. “There's a lot of desire in keeping them there, and there's a lot of opportunity costs in keeping them there. Our intent is to sign a lease with them so we have time and space to figure that out.”

Projections suggest City Hall will require 55,000 square feet to deliver all public services by 2034, and the county will need the same. Add them up and the federal building offers room to consolidate both governments, and it could be delivered for less than other options.

“There will need to be an amendment to this, or a new inter-local agreement that governs the operational maintenance of the building once construction is complete,” said deputy city attorney Ryan Sudbury.