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Missoula County signs off on pursuit of federal building; downtown properties to open up

Federal Building Purchase
Posted at 2:58 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 16:58:47-04

MISSOULA — The city and county of Missoula this week made official their pursuit of the downtown federal building, a move they contend is sorely needed to accommodate growth and free up other downtown properties for economic redevelopment.

The City Council adopted its agreement with the county on Monday and the county followed on Thursday with its own agreement with the city. The two governments would share the federal building, providing a one-stop-shop for services.

“This will move us one step closer to the acquisition of the federal building,” county CAO Chris Lounsbury said of Thursday’s signing. “The city received positive public comment from the Downtown Association for the acquisition of the federal building.”

The move would cost around $30 million in up-front renovations and an estimated $10 million in historic preservation. But the $40 million cost is less that than of building a new City Hall and county administrative building, according to local officials.

Vacating City Hall and the county admin building would also open those properties for redevelopment. The revenue could be used to cover some costs associated with the federal building and bring new economic opportunities to the downtown district.

“There’s concern out there for the money to be spent on the federal building. But with things like this, we should consider not just the money spent, but what the return on that would be,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “What I’m most excited about is what would take the place of the existing city and county offices right now.”

It’s estimated that around 400 city and county employees would occupy the federal building once it's ready, keeping them employed in the downtown district. While that’s a bonus, officials believe that redevelopment could provide locations for many more employees and services not currently in the district.

That would result in a net gain, Slotnick said.

“New buildings would occupy these spaces full of retail, commercial, office and potentially some housing with new people here who aren’t here now engaging in economic activity that isn’t happening right now,” Slotnick said. “I’m sure these current buildings would go away and be replaced by much grander structures full of a lot more people.”

Bringing additional residents, shops, and jobs downtown would also boost existing business. What’s more, officials said, City Hall and the county admin building are currently exempt from paying property taxes. If the properties were redeveloped, they would be added to the tax base.

“It’s all in line with the Downtown Master Plan,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It sets the stage for redevelopment and recognizes that we have real space needs that if not now, at some point will need to be addressed and dealt with and perhaps at a much greater cost down the road.”

Missoula will submit its official request to the National Park Service to receive the federal building free of charge under the Good Neighbor Program.