A rare and iconic piece of downtown Missoula is for sale.
The two buildings that house the Old Post Pub and Worden’s Market and Deli at 451 N. Higgins Ave. are available for $3.995 million. The half-acre lot also includes the parking lot and the rental apartments above the Old Post bar and restaurant. The two businesses, Worden's and the Old Post, aren’t for sale but would be tenants in the buildings if the property is purchased.
Worden’s owner Tim France owns the property and is on a motorcycle trip and couldn’t be reached, but real estate broker Jessie Eagen of Missoula said France is ready to move on.
“Tim bought that real estate in 1987 and he’s looking forward to retirement,” Eagen said. “I eat there three or four times a week, and he’s there every single day with his blue apron on. He’s ready to pass the torch. He owns all the real estate and of course Worden’s.”
The Old Post Pub building’s technical address is 103 W. Spruce, and that building includes a downstairs area known as “La Grotta Bella” that’s used for wine tastings.
Eagan calls the property “the most recognizable corner in Missoula if not all of Montana.”
“In the last 20 years, I have not seen another property of this size and location in downtown Missoula go for sale, except of course the Merc,” he explained.
The historic Missoula Mercantile building on the corner of Front and Higgins was recently converted into a Marriott hotel.
“I’ve had a lot of inquiries,” Eagan said of the Worden's property. “Half the people are investors looking at what it would be to keep it as is, and the other half, probably more so, are developers looking at what can be done down there,” he said.
He said he's not sure what the lease agreement is for the Old Post Pub.
“I personally would like to see the Old Post stay exactly as it is, with five really nice rental units above it," he said. "But with the parking lot and Worden’s, I could see a mixed-use building with Worden’s 2.0 downstairs and housing up above. If you read the Downtown Master Plan, they’re screaming for more downtown housing, and right now seems like the best time ever. But with a $4 million price tag it’s going to depend on whatever a developer deems possible.”
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Eagen said if the property was kept as is, it’s “not a bad investment property.”
“But the land is worth so much money that there’s probably a higher and better use for that property, like commercial in the main level and then three or four stories of downtown condos or housing. I’ve been pushing that for five years.”
Condominiums downtown sell fast and are in high demand. Eagen noted that the condos in the Wilma building downtown sell for as much as $800 to $1,109 per square foot.
“That’s a top-floor corner unit, but still,” he said. “Those sell in less than 30 days. I’m pretty bullish on it.”
Worden's, Missoula’s oldest grocery store, was established in the 1880s on West Front Street and has been in continuous operation ever since. It was purchased by Tim and Exie France in 1981 and is now in its fifth location.
Eagen said the 24-spot parking lot and the Worden’s building combined add up to about a 16,000-square-foot footprint for something to be developed.
“There’s people looking at keeping it as is, but personally, looking at the numbers, some sort of redevelopment would be a higher and better use,” he said.
The pace of development in Missoula is slightly down in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of the four previous years, according to Mike Haynes, the director of the city’s development services office. "In the first three months of 2019, Development Services staff issued 205 building permits for projects with a total market value of construction of $24.3 million,” Haynes wrote in a statement.
That amount of development is the least in any three-month period in Missoula since the beginning of 2015. Last year started to show a slight slowing of development activity in Missoula, according to statistics compiled by the city.
“The total market value of construction, of building permits issued in 2018 was $223.6 million, which fell short of the level of development activity seen in 2016 and 2017,” Haynes said.
However, the number of residential units permitted so far in 2019 is relatively high, with 130 units permitted in the first three months compared to 463 units permitted in all of 2018.