Historic Preservation Commission saves Missoula Mercantile for future trouble

The Missoula Mercantile in 2019 (developer's conception)

The Missoula Mercantile in 2019 (artist’s conception)

Good news, everyone: after three months, two marathon meetings, one missed quorum and a public spat with the city attorney, the Historic Preservation Commission has voted to deny HomeBase Montana’s application for a permit to destroy the Missoula Mercantile building. The Merc is saved! At least until the next city council meeting—they’re the ones tasked with hearing HomeBase’s appeal. They probably won’t decide anytime soon, though. There’s no system in place for the city to overturn or, for that matter, become bound by the commission’s decision. This issue—where HPC votes to preserve a building that developers and certain city officials really want to destroy—just hasn’t come up before.

But at least the Merc is safe, for now. Those of us who would not like to see it knocked down and replaced with a Marriott shouldn’t celebrate just yet, though, because we haven’t held up our end of the bargain. If we want to save the Merc, we have to do something with it. Keeping a $5 million building vacant and gutted in the middle of downtown while we turn away developer after developer is not a cool option. The HPC’s decision feels provisional because the commission wrecked its credibility rendering it. But it also feels that way because the Merc won’t be saved until we find some productive use for it. You can read all about this problem in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

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