MISSOULA - As was anticipated, the city and county of Missoula received the downtown Federal building as a single governing entity on Friday, a move that closes one chapter and begins another.
The two governments have spent the past two years conducting due diligence and debating the benefits of acquiring the historic but vacant structure.
The federal government conveyed ownership of the property on Friday under the Good Neighbor Program.
Conveyance requires the city and county to maintain the structure in perpetuity in exchange for free receipt of the property.
“The federal building is one of Missoula's most important landmarks and is a critical part of Missoula's downtown,” a statement released from the city and county Friday stated. “The building is currently sound, and many of its beautiful historic architectural features and treatments are intact.”
In 2021, the Missoula City Council placed its unanimous support behind plans to accept the historic property, and the county did the same.
Both local governments are grappling with spatial needs that will only grow more acute in the coming years, and accepting, renovating and occupying the federal building carried the lowest cost of the other alternatives.
Early figures suggested the property would require around $40 million in work, but that has since been refined. On Friday, the city and county set “a ballpark estimate” of $14 to $16 million.
The cost would be evenly split between the two governments.
A city official on Friday said the city and county would now secure a construction consultant to complete the design needed to make the facility ready for public service.
Employees would likely move into the building in 2025.
Other decisions will be made over the coming months, including where the funding will come from to renovate the building for public use, and what the city and county plan to do with their current properties.
It's likely that certain properties currently owned by the city and county in downtown Missoula will be sold to help cover construction and renovation of the federal building.
“We are used to working on this kind of a scale,” a city official close to the project said Friday. “We'll be pursuing every opportunity. There's everything from federal grants to the sale of some of the assets we have right now. We have other assets we could consolidate and put those resources into the federal building.”
Portions of the building were constructed back in 1913. 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 Forest Service relocated from its downtown headquarters to Fort Missoula in 2015, and since then the building has remained mostly empty.