MISSOULA – If you knew every nook and cranny of the historic Missoula Mercantile, it will feel like a homecoming when you walk through the doors of the new hotel complex that’s taken its place.
That’s because it took three years of controversy, ideas and collaboration to merge the old and the new into the new Residence Inn by Marriott.
When developer Andy Holloran spoke to reporters almost three years to the day, he explained the once grand Mercantile was beyond saving, proposing a new hotel to take its place.
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That started a spirited debate of the old versus the new, leading to the eventual “deconstruction” of the once legendary “Merc.”
Now, it was time to cut the ribbon and take the wraps off the replacement, and a restoration for downtown.
“Where you hear when Macy’s closed on March 1st, 2010? How many of you remember that? It was devastating for our downtown,” Downtown Missoula Partnership Executive Director Linda McCarthy said.
“And exactly nine years later we celebrate bringing life, jobs, commerce, people and vibrancy back to this special location,” she added.
“I am grateful to be in this building, and see life and spirit and commerce and smiles and people,” Mayor John Engen said.
It really is a remarkable comeback, punctuated by historical touches — from the ceiling in the bar, the famous canopy over the entryway, to the reclaimed beams and wood.
Even the bricks which form the wall behind the reception desk, walking through the hotel is like running into old friends on a downtown street.
“The community of Missoula has really rallied behind this project. And I understand there were people who were sad to see the old Mercantile go,” Holloran said.
“And we respect that. But at the end of the day we have project that has created jobs, vitality, commerce, excitement,” he added. “And even seeing tonight with two hundred or more people coming out and celebrating that’s really humbling.”
And yet, make no mistake, the hotel is all new and all Montana. The famous windows of the pharmacy — the only section of the Mercantile that could be saved, bring daylight to a posh new suite that is arguably the nicest hotel room in town.
Other rooms are remarkably cozy and varied. The exercise room is modern, but with a view of the mountains. The artwork is especially local, including the fascinating wall art featuring Missoula’s most famous books.
“We do things our way in Missoula but we still do them. Right? And the product is this beautiful hotel where a lot of people are going to enjoy themselves,” Engen said. “A lot of people will find work. A lot of people will find meaning. And we all benefit.”
The hotel isn’t exactly like Holloran first proposed at that press conference three years ago. But he told MTN News that he thinks it’s a better project for having gone through all the controversy, debate and suggestions.
“The city council, the mayor, were very constructive, and I do believe at the end of the day that the project is better today than when it was originally conceived,” Holloran stated.
Hotel operators plan a larger grand opening later this spring.