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Missoula Mayor Engen backs proposal to demolish Mercantile building.. but at what cost to Missoula's architectural soul?

Reader Comments

March 6, 2016View for printing

Missoula's mayor begrudgingly gets behind a proposal to deconstruct a historic downtown building -- saying despite community objection -- it's the city's only choice.

The plan was proposed by a Bozeman-based developer and would take down the Missoula Mercentile piece-by-piece and construct a Marriott hotel in its place.

This offer to do something with the building that's been vacant for six years is one Mayor John Engen says the city might not get again, but it's a loss the community would mourn.

By Jenna Heberden

Full Story: ... le-building


Mayor backs developer's plans to demolish Missoula Mercantile for new hotel

The fate of the Missoula Mercantile building, one of the city’s most important historical icons, is a powerfully divisive issue.


Full Story: ... 94617c.html


I agree with the Mayor that, if there is no way that the current building can be utilized because of structural problem, it should be demolished.

I do not agree with the proposed design.

Missoula is a unique draw for tourists and residents because it doesn't look like every other city out there. Other small communities do everything they can to preserve their older buildings and when they do replace one, many demand that the replacement keep with the older type of architecture that is so important to the soul of the community.

I'd like to understand why the developers couldn't provide a more appropriate facade. I'm afraid that if we keep allowing new structures like the Millennium, First Security and this new hotel we will eventually lose the "look and feel" of downtown Missoula that draws so many to our community.

Let's have a discussion about the soul of Missoula before we let yet another "modern" building go up that lacks soul and could be found in any big city in the world.

Missoula's history and it's unique beauty are at stake.

Russ Fletcher


Like the Mayor, and like thousands of other people in the Missoula area, I have good memories of the Merc--experiences, purchases, people. The building has defined a great part of our community longer than any of us can know. Someone acknowledged it as part of our community fabric, and that sounds about right. I tend to believe those who say it has passed its usefulness, though, and it is time to let it go.

This won't be easy. Losing an iconic building like this is a form of change that is as violent to a community's soul as it is necessary. It would help if the developers saw this property and Missoula as a community and not as a "market," though. To the degree that the Mayor is able to remind the developers of that, the more he is able to use his office to impress upon them the significance of that corner to what it means to be a part of Downtown Missoula, the better.

A good place to begin is in the architecture. The developers get to make money off what goes on inside the building, but the people of Missoula--all of us--have to look at the building for the next several generations. To the degree that the City allows ANY concessions, provides ANY assistance (financial or otherwise) to these developers, the members of the community ought to hold our elected and appointed officials to the highest standards when it comes to influencing the design of this development. Now is a good time to say, NO, to any more opportunistic and offensive designs like the unfortunate Cellular Plus/Verizon horror show on East Broadway. Hopefully, the design of the hotel that has been shared is only conceptual at this point--a massing study or something. If the hotel ends up looking like the drawing shown in the paper, we will be sorry.

There is no architectural context for that building that I can see. No building--with the possible exception of the less than inspirational First Interstate Bank building--seems to evoke any architectural kinship with this hotel.

It doesn't have to be that way. Our recent Mayors have participated in a program called the "Mayors Design Workshop." They have been exposed to how mayors can influence good design in their communities. Our mayor has access to experts who can help him lead the developers to design a building worthy of that site. I have confidence that if he chooses to, the mayor can make a meaningful difference on what this building looks like. My confidence stems from the fact that Mayor Engen is part of a community, he not part of a "market."

The worst thing would be to simply accept whatever is the first thing put on the drawing board. This location calls out that we have some community leadership on design like it really mattered because, in this case, it truly does.

Geoff Badenoch


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Reader Comments:

I concur completely. That design is horrible! It looks like a senior citizens center; nothing even close to the gem it is / was.

The developers tout that money is not the only focus, but this design appears that way. Maybe the rendering doesn't do the proposal justice? Hopefully there's an element to that.

Tim Skufca

Maybe we should agree on what we mean by ?the soul of Missoula? and ask ourselves whether this current downtown eyesore is the defining characteristic.

Maybe the Merc building is a part of our soul, but then again, I would certainly hope that there are many other features that define our soul more adequately than the memory and preservation of a structure that has little remaining artistic character.

--Roger Shuy

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