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Construction is finally complete on an overhaul and remodel of the old Ace Fancy Plants at 1101 Burlington, and the newly named Montana Ace Garden Place now has two giant year-round greenhouses, a new façade and an expanded selection of plants, gifts and garden and lawn accessories.

At a price tag of over $400,000, the construction includes a new check-out kiosk, a 3,000-square-foot retail store, better parking and access, and the state-of-the-art greenhouses that will be open all winter.

“For years we’ve been wanting to update our nursery to make it a showcase for Missoula, and after much planning and hard work, I believe we’ve accomplished that with the new Garden Place,” said Don Pearce, Montana Ace general manager.

Jess Drew is a certified master gardener and manages the new indoor retail space. She said the new greenhouses will allow customers to pick and choose from a greater variety all year long.

“Now we have a controlled climate system and lights and heaters we can run throughout the year,” she said. “We’ll be doing Christmas stuff inside one of them in the winter and houseplants in the other.”

Outside space manager Joe Walker said the facility has thousands of varieties of plants, everything from apricot trees to shrubs to pottery, soil and mulch products.

“I couldn’t tell you what our best seller is because we have such a wide variety,” he explained.

Drew said Japanese maples and blueberry bushes are popular, as are tall ornamental grasses for landscaping. The indoor area has bird supplies, gifts and free coffee. On May 18-19, the Garden Place will have a grand opening weekend with free food, beverages and sales.

Drew took classes with the Missoula County Extension and Weed District to learn everything about soil amendments and pruning fruit trees so she can help customers with any question that might come up. As Missoula’s population grows, the demand for indoor houseplants and outdoor landscaping supplies is heating up, she said.

“More people are doing outdoor gardening,” she said. “There was more demand. At Ace, we pride ourselves on being complete and we weren’t able to offer a complete offering in this location. When we moved to this location 10 years ago we didn’t really have a good retail space so we’ve been wanting to do this facelift for a while.”

Last year, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency approved $50,000 in Façade Improvement Funds for the site because it sits in the Urban Renewal District II that the city considers blighted. Chris Behan, the MRA’s assistant director, said the project is likely to generate more property taxes now because the Montana Department of Revenue is moving to an “income approach” when valuing commercial property.

“Remodeling the exterior and interior of an existing space generally does not result in significant increased tax,” he said. “However, this project will both represent a change in use and will reset any depreciation of a large part of the building that may be included in prior Montana Department of Revenue appraisals."

He said the DOR may reassess the project property higher due to the extensive improvements and actual recent purchase price, which is higher than the current valuation.

Therefore, he said, an increase in valuation accompanied with an increase in property taxes can be expected.

“But how DOR will determine the amount is difficult to ascertain,” he noted.

Now that the business will be open all year, Ace estimates they will increase employment by four full-time and six part-time positions for the first year. Price Construction in Missoula did most of the work and contracted out the rest. Behan said the improvement to the site, which was formerly a gravel parking lot and a blighted warehouse, could produce spin-off investments.

“There are several vacant and underutilized storage yards in the immediate vicinity of the project which may gain additional attention or incentive to redevelop,” he said.

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