Mayor Hess details next steps in Missoula federal building process
(Missoula Current) Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess added detail to the federal government's conveyance of the old federal building in downtown Missoula, saying renovations remain the cheapest and best option on the table as the two governments look to the future.
On Friday, the city and county received the vacant but historic structure for free from the federal government under the Good Neighbor Program. In exchange, they must now maintain the facility in perpetuity, and efforts to do so are underway.
“We have a process to select a contractor, and we're going through an architectural phase right now,” Hess told the Missoula Current. “We're really going to get going in earnest on the planning process – which departments move and what not. We'll be getting to the granular level of that.”
Over the past year, the city and county have looked at consolidating both employees and local services in the federal building. The intent is to create a one-stop-shop for local services ranging from licensing and registration, to courts and government meetings.
It has been estimated that around 400 city and county employees will work from the facility. That's a benefit to downtown, officials have said, as the local workforce will remain in the district.
“This is going to be a building that will last as long as we care for it, and I'm excited about having a design that promotes good customer service,” Hess said. “We get confusion all the time about coming to the wrong building. I think having that all in one place is going to be a tremendous public service.”
Portions of the building were constructed back in 1913, and it served as the headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service for more than 100 years. It underwent an expansion in the 1930s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The city and county believe it will take around $14 to $16 million to renovate the facility. Hess said the city has a number of options to cover its share of the cost, ranging from selling its current downtown properties, doing away with leases, and looking to federal programs such as the Inflation Reduction Act to fund the work and complete any upgrades.
“We'll look at potentially selling City Council chambers, potentially selling City Hall for redevelopment, and the county has a decision to make on its admin building,” Hess said. “We've got about $200,000 a year in lease payments. That will be a funding source for us. Projects of this size are well within our ability to manage. Over the long haul, it's the cheapest alternative.”
In a study presented to city officials two years ago, a number of alternatives were explored to meet the spatial needs of local government.
By 2034, projections suggest City Hall will require 55,000 square feet to deliver all public services, 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.
The study said that continuing the status quo and leasing additional space to meet current and future spatial needs will cost the city around $20 million through 2034. Renovating and expanding City Hall would cost $28 million, including the need for additional room for Municipal Court.
Neither of those address the county's needs.
“It's cheaper than renovating City Hall, It's cheaper than building on site, and we get to preserve this building in the process,” Hess said. “It's not very often you get to do the right thing, the best thing, and have it be the cheapest thing.”
Several other issues will also be addressed in the coming months, including the future home of the Missoula Police Department, which currently occupies a portion of City Hall.
Hess said a police facility planning process is ongoing and will help make that determination.
“We have an architectural team on board doing space needs assessment,” he said. “City Hall would be one option. Other options would be sprinkled throughout the community. There will be a process to score those options based on what works operationally.”