MISSOULA — Two planning and architectural firms are in the early process of designing and proposing a mixed-use development within the Historical Fort Missoula District, including the preservation and use of the old post hospital.
While the project remains in design, it would cover roughly 5 acres of private land within the district, including the post hospital, the old nurses’ quarters and a shed. It also includes a parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to the hospital.
“Maintaining this as a place for the public is crucial,” David Hoffman told members of the Historic Preservation Commission this week. “The hospital is the primary structure. It’s one of the most historic buildings on the site. We want to restore it as close as we can to its traditional design intent.”
The hospital was constructed in 1911 to treat members of the U.S. Army, followed by those held during World War II in the internment camp. The property went on the market in 2019 and the new owners want to ensure its long-term preservation and care.
Along with restoration, early plans suggest expanded uses for the building, including office space on the second floor and public amenities on the ground floor. The legacy trees would be retained and landscaping would be restored to its original intent.
“It won’t require any big structural changes,” said Doug Newby. “We can focus more of our dollars on the restoration and preservation of the historically important pieces of this building and open it up to the public. Office would be a highly acceptable use here.”
As currently proposed, new development would also include around 10,000 square feet of retail space on the adjacent property, including a restaurant and cafe. While the facility hasn’t been designed, it would be in keeping with the architecture at Fort Missoula and the early days of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
It would also cater to the hundreds of employees who work at Fort Missoula, along with visitors to the local museum and nearby recreational facilities. The project would expand and tie into the area’s trail system.
“We see this as increasing the public utility of the Fort in general,” said Hoffman. “If they’re out here recreating, walking on the trail network, or visiting the museums, there’s a place for them at the end of all of that.”
The design team believes the intent of a Planned Unit Development as defined by the city includes a mix-use approach, which typically involves some form of housing. The project proposes to include around 15 townhomes or condominiums tucked behind the project.
“To do this with no public funds and all private investment, there’s a trade-off for having some new development,” Hoffman said. “We do think some new development is appropriate. It’s privately owned land and has been for several decades.”
Housing would bring a 24-hour presence to the property and create more advocacy for the Fort in general. The designers also believe the project meets the intent of the city’s definitions of a Planned Unit Development.
“The developer’s desire is to create a mixed-use that would thrive 24-7, 365,” said Hoffman. “We really feel strongly that’s in line with the objectives of a PUD as defined by Missoula. Mixed use, commercial, office and housing is in line with what a PUD should be doing.”
Lavall Means, a senior planner with the city, said the property is currently covered by various zoning rules, which would remain in place and guide the project, including those pertaining to historic preservation.
A Planned Unit Development also is allowed by state and city regulations as an “overlay.” As such, it permits new uses while placing further restrictions on other uses.
“Any overlay that sits on top of a base zone can adjust those uses and, in this case, a permitted use is pursuing a PUD,” said Means. “In this particular instance, we have the added layer of design and the criteria from preservation permitting that needs to be left to the preservation commission.”
The development team plans to engage the Historic Preservation Commission again next month as the design begins to take shape. The commission is restricted in what it can and cannot recommend as part of the proposal.
“There are other things the design team would have to consider if they plan to proceed with a PUD, which is one of the things they’re considering right now,” said Means. “There’s additional review criteria associated with the zoning amendment.”
While members of the preservation commission have yet to weigh in on the proposal, they will likely do so next month as the project design evolves. In the past, when the property went on the market in 2019, preservation advocates expressed concern over the property’s uncertain future.
The list price at the time was $900,000 and renovations were placed in the millions of dollars.
“From our standpoint, we just want to make sure at least the exterior of the building is preserved as it looks today because it contributes to the historical integrity of Fort Missoula,” Matt Lautzenheiser, director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, said in 2019. “The last thing we want to see is someone come in and level the building, or make wholesale changes to the exterior of it.”