By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The city will purchase a building on Catlin Street for the Missoula Police Department, a move that will enable the agency to store evidence in a single location, consolidate its office space and maintain a presence on the south side, city officials said Thursday.

The move would also free up needed space downtown for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the city's new Office of Housing and Community Development, leading Mayor John Engen to call the purchase a win on a number of fronts.

“We have long needed to upgrade our evidence facility,” said Engen. “With the help of Julie Gardner, we stumbled upon this building. She looked at it and found that it's adequate to meet our needs today and for the next 20 or 30 years with some modification. It came in at a price that made sense for us.”

The $1.3 million facility is located at 101 N. Catlin St. The city plans to close on the purchase this month and has issued a request for qualifications in search of an architect to renovate the building and add the necessary security.

The renovation costs are estimated at roughly $2 million. MRA's Board of Directors granted the city's request to proceed without prejudice, meaning the city's request for funding to assist with renovations would be considered at a later time.

“It's recognized that there are limited resources in that (urban renewal) district,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “This is not an immediate request for funding, but it's a request to proceed with the work needed to get them in there.”

Engen said the new facility would include evidence storage, a briefing room for patrol officers and relocation of the department's detectives, who are currently housed near Main Hall on Pine Street.

Once the detective unit relocates to the new facility, MRA would likely move into the space or see their offices expand to accommodate a larger meeting room and the Office of Housing and Community Development.

“We're really excited about this (Catlin) location, and we're excited about the opportunity, which is a long time coming, and we like the price,” Engen said. “We think it's good for the neighborhood, good for citizens, good for the city and good for MRA.”

Police Chief Mike Brady said the new Catlin Street location gives the department an opportunity to bring its staff together in one facility. The department is currently spread across several locations, and its evidence storage is overflowing and insufficient.

“We have some serious parking issues bringing everyone into this one (downtown) location,” Brady said. “We're doing all our report writing at City Hall and we have seven shipping containers at Scott Street for overflow evidence. We'll be able to move into one facility that has around 15,000 square feet already built.”

As it stands, Brady said, patrol officers must return to the downtown station to write reports. Once the new facility opens, officers can stay on the south side to complete their work.

That will improve the department's coverage, Brady said.

“Everyone isn't coming back to the station to write reports and get called out to go back south,” Brady said. “It also allows us the opportunity to have a storefront south. People can make a report out there and parking isn't an issue for them. It will allow us a lot more flexibility than we have right now.”

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