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Missoula Mercantile

The 80,000-square-foot Mercantile building has been a fixture in downtown Missoula since it was built in 1877 and has sat empty since 2010.

An effort to form a panel to look into alternatives to demolishing the historic Missoula Mercantile hit a bureaucratic snag late Thursday night.

The Missoula Historic Preservation Commission, meeting in city council chambers, voted unanimously to create the subcommittee and include all 12 of its members on it – but neglected to solicit public comment.

The oversight was noticed after the meeting adjourned shortly before 10 p.m.

“That kind of negated the whole action from a procedural standpoint,” historic preservation officer Leslie Schwab said Friday. “We’re kind of figuring out how to back up and have another special meeting and do the process again.”

Chances are the next try will be Thursday, March 24. In its deliberations the commission agreed to convene the subcommittee each Thursday at 7 p.m. until June 2, the night of its final meeting before a demolition application is ruled on.

That deadline is June 7 – 90 days after HomeBase Montana of Bozeman formally filed the application.

HomeBase Montana seeks to tear down the Merc and replace it with a downtown motel and retail plaza. Via a 2010 ordinance, the Historic Preservation Commission was charged with both considering the demolition permit application and investigating viable alternatives to demolition.

The commission spent most of the nearly three-hour meeting on Thursday picking through the HomeBase Montana application and formulating questions and concerns about it. The subcommittee will try to find answers to those concerns.

“The purpose is basically to deal with the application before us and do research to find as much good information as we can,” said committee vice-chairman Steve Adler, a local architect who ran the meeting in the absence of chairman Mike Monsos. “I’d like to include dialogue with the applicant that would enable a round table or forum so we can all sit and talk with each other and see, as we get more information, what the reality is and find out what the options really are.”

The formal motion called for the subcommittee to facilitate the Bozeman developer’s application, research it and consult with HomeBase Montana in a public setting. The panel also will research alternatives to demolition and explore financial incentives from federal, state and local sources to keep the 1877 Mercantile standing and economically viable.

The committee plans to report updates at city council meetings starting at 7 p.m on Monday, March 21. A presentation by HomeBase Montana to the Land Use and Planning committee is on tap Wednesday, March 23, at 9:45 a.m. And a third Merc presentation of the week, this one by Development Services director Mike Haynes, is scheduled for the monthly Community Forum meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 24.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian