City to craft agreement with Mercantile hotel developers

The city is asking HomeBase to preserve the pharmacy portion of the Missoula Mercantile and build a new Marriott hotel that closely resembles images submitted to the city during the review process. The rendering above is the latest submitted by HomeBase.

By Martin Kidston

Deconstruction of the Missoula Mercantile could take as long as five months, and while the structure’s soft brick may provide limited opportunities for reuse, the building’s interior holds what one deconstruction expert described as a wealth of “unprecedented” materials.

A week after granting HomeBase initial approval to deconstruct the vacant downtown building and erect a new hotel in its place, members of the City Council set out Wednesday to draft a development agreement that binds HomeBase to certain expectations throughout the process.

While the agreement remains a work in process, the expectations are likely to include preservation of the pharmacy portion of the Mercantile, placement of a surety bond, and hiring a qualified deconstruction contractor to perform the work.

“I want this to be written in such a way that substantial compliance with the drawings we got doesn’t exclude the chance for more preservation,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “I want to make sure our values are somehow incorporated in that. I also want to make sure we don’t put in so many checkpoints that it becomes a disincentive to the developers.”

HomeBase is looking to deconstruct the Mercantile and replace it with a custom $30 million Marriott hotel. While no contract has been signed, HomeBase has already met with Home ReSource in Missoula, a licensed and bonded contractor specializing in deconstruction.

Jason Knuckolls of Home ReSource said his organization has spent countless hours inside the Mercantile, analyzing its deconstruction potential.

“The Merc is a little different regarding other buildings and commercial buildings we’ve worked on,” Knuckolls said. “It’s three to four buildings and has that traditional soft Missoula brick. It’s not a building you’d do a complete deconstruction on piece by piece.”

Rather, Knuckolls said, crews would start by addressing any asbestos issues before dismantling the building’s interior. That would likely occur in pieces, starting from the east and working west.

The process would leave a shell as the worked progressed, and heavy equipment would be used to bring down the exterior walls.

“The ideal way to handle these bricks, we’d likely knock the walls in, haul the bricks out and take them to another location to make them available instead of disposing them,” Knuckolls said. “There’s been talk about letting folks take old bricks or crushing them to make other material. We’d like to try to get as many of those bricks back out into the community as we can.”

While the bricks hold little potential for secondary construction use, Knuckolls said, the Mercantile interior provides of wealth of item’s that are “unprecedented” across the Northwest.

“The materials used are stuff that we just don’t see anymore,” he said. “There are heavy, large timbers that could have another use in a commercial building. The quality of the material is kind of breathtaking. There would be more than enough to go around.”

Knuckolls believes the timeline offered by HomeBase to deconstruct the building has been understated. If contracted, he said Home ReSource would work with the developers on a more realistic timeline.

He believes the process could take as long as five months. The company would team up with Heritage Timber, a deconstruction firm also based in Missoula, to complete the work.

“It’s a unique building to deconstruct,” Knuckolls said. “It has to be done in sections safely. But that’s the beauty of deconstruction. You’re opening up this building and seeing how it was put together.”

The building’s condition and unknown historic offerings has prompted HomeBase and the city to agree on a development process that would allow deconstruction to move forward before a final hotel design is completed, so long as certain conditions were met throughout the process.Mercantile2

Laval Means with the city’s Development Services said her department is working to craft a development agreement that is both fair and ensures that all parties hold true to the contract.

Under early terms of the agreement, developers must preserve the pharmacy portion of the Mercantile and build a hotel that generally resembles what was presented to the City Council last month. If funding is sought from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to help cover deconstruction costs, MRA would also have a hand in guiding the final design and any further preservation requirements.

“We should allow as much latitude as possible for preservation of the existing structure and as much reuse of salvageable materials as possible,” said Ward 4 council member John DiBari. “Part of what we want to do here is to ensure these different phases happen in a smooth an orderly way. I’d like to see us present a clear path forward.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com