In the hour leading up to the grand opening of City Council’s new chambers, Missoula’s sentimental side was on display. It had been 14 months since Council had a permanent home—the body’s five newest members have never even met in their own digs, but convened instead at the hospital or in the police department’s basement—and its new home at 140 W. Pine St. is beautiful. Warm-colored walls and high ceilings are part of the utter transformation at the old Moose Lodge, which more recently housed a series of bars and countless concerts. Not to be outdone by their surroundings, Council members and city staff spiffed themselves up for the occasion, wearing less-than-customary suits and even, in the case of Council President Ed Childers, a rented tuxedo.
Waiting for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, one frequent Council commenter rouged her cheeks before snapping a few shots for the scrapbook. A trio of young musicians rehearsed their bit and the police department’s honor guard practiced its routine. There were lofty statements about “milestones” and this “monumental day,” and Public Works Director Steve King reflected that “the demeanor of the city is expressed in its council chambers, so this is a step up in every way.”
But there was also talk about the evolution’s more practical aspects. The $1.6 million project took more than two years to complete, due to Council’s dithering over substantial mold and asbestos problems that required remediation, but on opening night most of those hatchets appear to be buried. Nomadic city staff can now stop hauling around presentation materials, and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, with new offices in the building, can stop paying rent.
But perhaps the biggest impact can’t even be seen. The Missoula Community Access Television staff that broadcasts the weekly Council meetings live now works in a tiny recording room at the building’s north end. General Manager Joel Baird says staff no longer have to spend six hours setting up and then breaking down recording equipment for each meeting. They’ve invested 398 hours doing just that over the past year, Baird says, and that extra time will now go toward broadcasting weekly Council committee meetings for the first time ever.