More restaurants and an extensive locally produced art program have been announced as additions to the new Mercantile hotel in downtown Missoula when it opens next year.
A fast-casual espresso bar, and a breakfast, lunch and dinner salad café called Basal will occupy the first floor of the historic Pharmacy Building portion. A new restaurant and bar called 1889, featuring contemporary American cuisine like steak and seafood, will occupy the prominent space on the corner of Front Street and Higgins Avenue. The entire building will also feature roughly 430 local pieces of art curated by the Radius Gallery, including historic photos framed and printed by Missoula small business owners.
That’s according to Andy Holloran of Homebase Partners, the development team building the new five-story custom Residence Inn by Marriott.
“It’s an amazing collection of bars and retail and restaurants that we think will really do what we hope to do, and that’s to revitalize, really, the bull's-eye of our downtown, and that’s Higgins and Front," Holloran said. "It’s going to be a great complement to The Wilma, to The Florence and to the First Interstate Bank building across the street, so we’re excited about that.
"We just couldn’t be happier or more thrilled to be in downtown Missoula.”
He called the designs for the large corner space housing the 1889 restaurant “off-the-charts cool” and said it will have a raised bar area with open sight lines to the large windows facing the streets. That restaurant is being opened by the owners of the The Keep Restaurant near Highlands Golf Club, which will stay open to go along with the new downtown location.
Holloran and the owners of the Radius Gallery gave a tour of the still-under-construction hotel on Monday to give members of the Missoula City Council and other officials a taste of what’s to come.
The extended-stay hotel is expected to open by Jan. 30, employing several dozen workers, while the restaurants and bars should open later in the spring. The developers have already announced that a fast-casual Thai restaurant with an outdoor patio called Phanom Thai will occupy one of the ground-floor spaces. A traditional Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar with small-batch tequilas called The Camino will fill another spot.
Julie and Taylor Clayton are opening Basal, featuring counter service with signature or custom salads. “They can choose based on greens, grains, proteins, cheeses and veggies, and we’ll have seats or to-go containers," said Julie Clayton.
She said the term “basal” refers to the base nutrients people need to survive.
Two fashion boutiques and a do-it-yourself arts-and-crafts bar will be mixed in, leaving two of the nine available commercial retail spaces still open and available to be leased. One of the available spaces is 1,000 square feet and the other is 2,000 square feet, according to broker Jed Dennison.
Holloran joked that it feels like it’s been “about 24 years” since March 2016, when he unveiled his plans to build the hotel.
“A sincere thanks goes to everybody in this room,” he said. “I think everybody had a part in the Mercantile and we are so thankful to be at this point. It was a long road but we think it’s worth it. We’re super-excited to show it off.”
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Holloran said the project is investing “five times the typical hotel amount” into the art program. Each of the 175 guest rooms will feature two large historic photographs of downtown Missoula or the old Mercantile building. The lobby and public indoor alleyway called The Mews will feature another roughly 60 pieces. No two rooms will have the same two photos.
“We’re telling the story of the history of the Mercantile and downtown Missoula,” Holloran said. “We were fortunate enough to salvage a tremendous amount of material that we’re using in the project, and kind of the icing on the cake is the art program. In a very unusual move, Marriott has continued to embrace our customization to make this really a special project.”
Jason Neal and Lisa Simon, the owners of the Radius Gallery in Missoula, are curating all those pieces.
“It’s been a really welcome challenge and a real honor to take part in such a high-profile building,” Neal said. “From our very first meeting, [Homebase Partners] were clear they wanted the artwork to pay tribute to Missoula, past and present, and that alone made it a really compelling project for us."
The art won't be just for guests of the hotel.
"I’m impressed that the vast majority of the artwork we’re putting in there is publicly accessible, and I think this new space not only celebrates but also enhances and bolsters the art scene in our community," Neal explained.
Neal said several local artists will have their work displayed prominently. Marcy James, owner of Paper and Ink Studio, and Marlo Crocifisso, owner of Art Haus Fine Art Framing, were hired for the printing and framing, respectively.
“Both of these are small, locally owned businesses,” Neal said. “I don’t think either is more than two years old. You can imagine that this was a pretty big deal for them, and they did a great job and were wonderful partners.”
Neal said the art program has four components: historic photos mainly from the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana; artifact photos done by a local photographer of items recovered from the Mercantile demolition site such as bottles and tools; original works by Montana artists, and “fanciful installations” specifically for the hotel, such as old megaphones.
“Overall, the artwork we’re putting over there is abundant, it’s wide-ranging,” Neal said. “And it’s really exciting to know that it’s all going to be situated in this space that has an interior design that is looking to the past while looking forward using reclaimed materials in really amazing contemporary ways. I just can’t wait to see this space. I think it’s going to be truly beautiful.”
Neal said most new hotels don’t buy original artwork, and he said the artists he and his wife commissioned were happy and honored to take part. He also said the photos from the archives in the Mansfield Library at UM will each have a short description so curious visitors can find out more about the city’s past.
The old Missoula Mercantile building was once the largest retail building between Seattle and Minneapolis, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When it was demolished, Homebase Partners salvaged things like giant old beams and the copper awning to be used in The Mews, which will be a place that encourages public use.
“It will be an amazing window into Missoula’s past,” Neal said.