It's no April Fool's joke. The citizens of Missoula have been given a valuable gift by a local businessman: land in the downtown urban core.
Terry Payne, who owns the current Missoula Public Library building and the entire block of land on which it sits at 300 E. Main St. downtown, has donated it to the city.
Payne, the founder of PayneWest Insurance and a local philanthropist, gave the property to the city Friday.
“Mr. Payne trusts the City of Missoula to find the highest and best use of this block based on community need, our extensive planning processes, need for quality, affordable housing and more,” said Mayor John Engen in a statement. “This is a remarkable gift from a Missoulian who has demonstrated his commitment to the community over and over again through his generosity, business practices and nature."
Payne had previously exchanged another property he owned, the entire 400 block of East Main, with the library so that a new library can be built while the old one remains open.
"I have confidence in Mayor Engen and his team to utilize this property in the best interests of the Missoula community,” Payne wrote in a statement sent out by the city. “It is in this spirit of cooperation and trust that my family was inspired to transfer this block to the City.”
The library will continue to operate at its current location until 2020, when the new building is complete.
According to city communications director Ginny Merriam, the property comes at no cost to the city other than the continued rent until the library moves.
She said the future use of the block, once the current library is vacant, will be a "product of community conversation."
"Planning documents and community need will guide the discussion about the eventual use of the property," she wrote in a statement.
In a phone call with the Missoulian, Payne made it clear that it was a "no strings attached" gift.
"I trust (Mayor Engen) and the city to be good stewards of the property," he said. "I thought that they would be the best ones to utilize that property in harmony with the interest of the community."
He said he didn't make any suggestions to the city on how to use the property.
"I'll leave that up to the city to determine the best use of the property," he said.
In 2016, Payne was inducted into the Montana Business Hall of Fame. The Payne Family Native American Center on the University of Montana campus was largely financed by Payne. He also donated to the Payne Family Library in the Missoula College building.
"It's very useful for us to give back to the community because the community has been so great to us," Payne said.
The new library is being paid for by a $30 million voter-approved bond and several million dollars worth of private donations.
"On behalf of the residents we serve, I’m grateful to Terry for his vision, kindness and trust," Engen said.