Missoula’s city and county governments are requesting U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s help in acquiring the vacant federal building.
The century-old building contains downtown's post office, but has otherwise mostly been vacant since 2015, when the U.S Forest Service relocated from there to Fort Missoula. It needs an estimated $10 million in maintenance and repairs.
In March, Mayor John Engen proposed that the city and county acquire the facility and secure much-needed space for their employees. At the time, he suggested doing so through the government’s Good Neighbor Program, through which the federal General Services Administration (GSA) partners with local entities on the management of federal properties.
But on Tuesday, Engen, the city’s chief administrative officer Dale Bickell, and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier spoke with Tester’s staff about acquiring it a different way: a public benefit conveyance.
Under this program, the federal government can transfer several types of buildings to state and local control. One of its categories is a historic monument. Bickell said that the federal building, which dates to 1911 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, “fits the program criteria very well.”
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“It’s a valuable asset for Missoula,” he said. “If the city and county can essentially have our operations there, it’s a good use of the facility.”
Engen told Dylan Laslovich, Tester’s chief of staff, that “our fallback continues to be that Good Neighbor Program, but this path seems much more clearly defined and efficient.” Transferring the federal building as a historic monument will require the approval of the National Park Advisory Board. Engen asked Laslovich if Tester’s office could connect the city with the correct staff at the National Park Service.
“Absolutely we will do that and we’ve had some good conversations as well with GSA and hopefully we can all figure out a path forward.” The GSA administers the program.
A time frame for the transfer has yet to be determined. Buildings delivered under the public conveyance program can be delivered at up to a 100% discount to the recipient government.
However, if the transfer goes through, the city and county could still have to assume the $10 million maintenance and repair costs. Engen said that the way that the two entities would share those costs, and other specifics such as the number of employees who would work there, and the parking situation, have yet to be addressed.