I had the joy of touring the Mercantile building several years ago as a citizen. I was not a prospective buyer or an activist for or against any future projects involving this property. This was not a cheaply built building, it was made to last. But it was a cavernous hulk in need of work. This leads me to the following observations.
Missoula as a community has worked hard over the years to allow and encourage infill development to reduce urban sprawl. The proposed Marriott Hotel at the Merc site is such a project. I welcome the Marriott as a new downtown neighbor but other factors need to be acknowledged. For one, the CBD-4 zoning at this site allows structures to be as high as ten stories. Homebase Montana needs to work with a condominium developer to integrate some upscale housing in this new development. This could augment the much needed profits to offset the costs of partial preservation of the Mercantile building.
I support the preservation of the Higgins Avenue façade. It is technically feasible and historically desirable to do this. The deconstruction of the eastern parts of the Merc would free up space for a mixed use tower. Translucent glass block flooring and patterned tin ceilings are modular and can be easily reused in the Mews – the new concourse.
Folks, nobody said it was easy. If we work as a team, this can be a unique and elegant new hotel, condo, retail, and historic centerpiece for Missoula. It can be uniquely Missoula. We have to ask this of the developers, Marriott, and the City of Missoula’s governance. Some of the best economic engines, aesthetic spaces, and historic preservation projects were born out of daring and challenging decisions. Let us be civil and confident as we journey forward as a community.
Erik Benson, Missoula