MISSOULA — Missoula city officials voted on Wednesday to move forward with the acquisition of a downtown building from the federal government.
Under the proposal, the city and county would split the cost of preparing the structure for public use.
The building holds the downtown post office at 200 East Broadway, but it's been home to a lot more throughout its history.
The building was constructed in four phases between 1911 and 1938. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
More recently, the USDA Forest Service moved out of the federal building back in 2015.
Local officials say now, as Missoula continues to grow, it could house about 25 different city and county departments that are running out of space.
“We are growing tremendously as a city. Every day more and more people come in," Councilwoman Sandra Vasecka said.
City council members say some departments are outgrowing their space.
“We have multiple competing priorities in our community, but growth and public service, and providing space for our constituencies and the daily function of city government is incredibly important," Councilwoman Stacie Anderson said.
Now, the City of Missoula wants to move forward in acquiring the historic building.
“We’re also preserving a pretty remarkable building that is a downtown icon and should continue to serve the public in the way that it has for many, many years," Missoula Mayor John Engen said.
“Win-win-win on so many levels,” added Councilwoman Gwen Jones.
The City and County plan to split costs on renovations, $20 million each.
Community Development Administrator John Adams said the building is mostly in good shape, but does need "about half a million dollars on asbestos and lead-based paint” repairs.
In the only public comment Wednesday, the Missoula Downtown Partnership reported they lost about 600 downtown employees when the US Forest Service moved out, leaving a gap in community spending.
Executive Director Linda McCarthy said she was in favor of the acquisition," keeping government services in downtown is always a priority for a vibrant, healthy city-center.”
If the city and county don't acquire the building, it would go to public auction, selling to the highest bidder.
Anderson said, while $40 million gave her a bit of sticker shock, it's not impossible.
"We are spending money already to house our city staff to provide these services, so this is not all a new expenditure, and I don't want it to be portrayed that way," Anderson said. "Doing nothing isn’t really an option, our community is growing."
So the question is, where is the money coming from to renovate the federal building?
Missoula Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell says this year's budget project will likely include a capital improvement request that will lay out the city's financial plans for the building.
Among the options, the city could also sell its other properties once it moves into the federal building, including City Hall and City Council chambers.
Other opportunities include federal grants for environment abatement of the federal building.
The city is also spending money on space now and would reclassify those expenses.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan could also be allocated toward the building’s rehabilitation.
The Missoula County Commissioners are hosting a public meeting at 2 p.m. on Thursday to discuss the possible acquisition of the building.