MISSOULA — Efforts to acquire and renovate the downtown federal building for public use continue to move forward, and city and county officials still expect to receive the building from the National Park Service in late 2022.
Missoula County CAO Chris Lounsbury on Thursday said engineers and architects continue to peck away at planning.
“We’ll continue working with A&E to the next phase, which will actually be planning the space and its uses as opposed to just looking at whether things fit in the building, but now actually working on how it looks and feels to the public,” he said. “We’ll be working more on that process.”
With the opportunity at hand, the Missoula City Council in June placed its unanimous support behind plans to accept the downtown federal building from the government. It also approved a memorandum of understanding with the county regarding future cost and care of the facility.
Under current plans, the city and county would split the cost of preparing the structure for public use, which is anticipated to cost each government around $20 million. But that remains far less than building a new facility to accommodate the many functions of local government.
Yet getting to the point of acquisition and eventual modifications will take time, Lounsbury said. Among the sticking points is finding a suitable location for the building’s handful of federal tenants, including a Secret Service agent and members of the FBI.
“It does sound like one of the challenges the Government Services Administration faces is locating space for the federal tenants, excluding the post office,” said Lounsbury. “We provide them every lead we can. Both the city and county have passed along opportunities.”
The new Missoula International Airport terminal has been suggested as one possibility. That facility remains under construction and will be completed in several phases with the first set to open early next year.
The historic federal building was built in phases between 1911 and 1938 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and was listed on the National Historic Register in 1979. The city’s Downtown Master Plan supports acquisition of the building, which could house up to 400 city and county employees by the end of 2024.
Plans will see the facility converted into a hub of local services, reducing the city and county’s needs to lease space throughout the downtown district.
“It’s a long term project,” Lounsbury said. “We knew that going in, but it continues to chug along.”