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Nonprofit purchases iconic downtown Missoula building

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A health-focused nonprofit has purchased the historic LaFlesch Building in downtown Missoula, which means that the Downtown Dance Collective will have to seek new digs for its programming.

Headwaters Foundation was created and funded by the sale of the nonprofit Community Medical Center hospital to a for-profit partnership in 2018. The Missoula-based nonprofit got one of the largest endowments in Montana history, over $100 million, and its mission is to improve the health of communities in western Montana. They’ve been looking for a permanent home for a year and finally settled on the downtown space.

The building, located at 119 W. Main Street, was built in 1891 and has a rich history that will now include more chapters.

“We’re excited to carry on the legacy of previous owners Jay and Stephenie LaFlesch,” said Headwaters CEO Brenda Solorzano. “They’ve poured their hearts into the building for the past 38 years and, since 2007, have created a valuable resource for Missoula’s nonprofit community. It seems fitting that Headwaters, which puts community at the center of everything we do, should land in a space that’s meant so much to the community over the years.”

Over the years, the building has housed the Missoula Publishing Company, barber shops, numerous cafes and cocktail lounges and the legendary Jay’s Upstairs bar and music venue until 2003.

“The history of this building is really important,” said Stephenie LaFlesch. “It’s been a good asset for the community.”

The LaFlesch’s listed the building for sale late last year because, they said, they are ready to retire and spend more time on their own projects. They had many offers but “wanted to sell to someone local and a foundation doing work on behalf of the communities of western Montana seemed like the right fit.”

“We wanted the legacy of this community gathering place to be with someone who is part of the Missoula community,” LaFlesch said.

Solorzano said they’ll update the space with “thoughtful design using local talent” and plan to move in in 2021.

“Currently, our doors are always open to nonprofit organizations in need of a free, accessible conference room for meetings,” Solorzano said. “This purchase allows us to expand the availability of a community gathering space while also providing office space for our staff.”

In 2018, Headwaters invested more than $3 million across four grant programs in fifteen counties in Western Montana. That year the foundation also launched its first strategic initiative, Zero to Five, aimed at improving the lives of Montana’s youngest children. In 2019 Headwaters invested nearly $3.5 million into western Montana communities.

“The assets of the Headwaters Foundation are a community resource,” said chair of the Headwaters Board of Trustees, Robert Phillips. “We’re pleased to make another significant investment in the community with the purchase of the LaFlesch Building.”

Heather Adams, the executive director of the Downtown Dance Collective, said she has mixed emotions on the announcement because it means they have to move after 13 years in the space.

“Though we’re incredibly sad to be leaving here, we understand Headwaters Foundation does a lot of great work,” she said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what they add to the Missoula community. It’s tough. We want to be happy for them. They’re getting something very dear to a lot of people. This building is very special, but we’re happy, and if there’s anything that the performing arts teaches us it's resilience and adaptability to make it happen.”

The Downtown Dance Collective offers community dance classes and is also the umbrella organization for other dance and music groups and therapeutic practitioners.

“We’re looking for a space,” Adams said. “We desire to stay downtown, as I feel now and always have, the performing and visual arts help to create a vibrant and exciting downtown. There are challenges with being downtown. The first and paramount one is the price of rent being prohibitive, and in many respects we’ve been incredibly lucky to be in the heart of activity downtown Missoula for 13 years.”

She said that in the next 90 days, before they move out, they’ll celebrate the current space as best they can. There’s a show planned for May 30 at the Missoula Children’s Theater.

For more information visit ddcmontana.com.

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