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Missoula railroad property receives historic status ahead of adaptive redevelopment

Development Missoula History
Posted at 8:24 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 10:24:22-04

MISSOULA — A brick warehouse built around 1900 along the Bitterroot Branch rail line in Missoula has won status as a historic resource and will be added to the city’s inventory of historic structures.

The designation preserves the building and allows the property owner to seek a parking reduction ahead of plans to add residential units, along with other retail or commercial opportunities.

The City Council approved the measure 9-1 on Monday night.

“Historic preservation is a value of this community that we strive to achieve in a variety of places,” said council member Jordan Hess. “This is an action to put an item on our local register in order to permit some of the benefits that come along with that.”

Located at 903 S. First Street W., the Bissinger Warehouse fed the company’s larger plant with skins and hides. The structure represents one of the last few commercial brick warehouses stemming from Missoula’s early industrial period and was managed by Paul Wilcox, who also lived nearby.

Giving the building historic status was an important step, according to city planner Laval Means.

“We find the idea of adding our own local eligible buildings to an inventory as a way to provide more context to those places,” she said. “We want to see the local inventory grow, and we want to see it as a way to encourage preservation of certain structures and reusing certain structures.”

Mike Morgan, one of the property’s owners, said the development team looks to preserve the warehouse while adding to the larger parcel. The project calls for condominiums and retail or office.

Monday’s historic designation allows for such adaptive reuse. The tool was created to add height to historic buildings located in the urban setting while preserving the original structure.

“Everything we’re designing for this property puts that building first,” Morgan said. “This site is ideal, and zoning allows for mixed-use on the site. We’re adding to the project residential, multi-family units. The location is great, right on the trail and so close to downtown.”

Despite the property’s current zoning, plans to preserve the building and city code surrounding the historic designation, the project didn’t receive a unanimous vote from the council.

Julie Merritt criticized the project as a “high-end” development.

“I recognize we need different types of housing in our community, and that these will fill a need, but I’m just not inclined to support this particular proposal,” Merritt said. “I wish the developer would have brought something with more affordable or attainable housing with it.”

The parcel is privately owned and is being privately funded, meaning the city cannot dictate the outcome of the project as it has with other developments that receive tax increment financing or seek use of the public right-of-way.

Morgan said the development will include a range of housing prices, not just “high-end” condos.

“It will be a mixed-use project as well as commercial uses and multi-family form,” Morgan said. “They won’t be tax incremented. There’s a mix of different types of units, different sizes and different markets. It will fill a need in multiple ways.”