Model building

Missoula's Palace has waited a long time for a facelift. Ventilation in the historic downtown apartment complex, above the Badlander bars, is poor. Tenant retention is low. Heating and insulation are inefficient. Vagrants have slipped in the front door to sleep in the lobby.

But if everything goes according to the Missoula Housing Authority's plan, the Palace will become a model for sustainable, affordable housing in Montana as early as this fall. MHA rounded out its funding for an extensive $8 million rehabilitation project this spring when it received $616,250 in tax credits from the Montana Board of Housing. MHA Executive Director Lori Davidson says it's a major step for an initiative dating back nearly 15 years.

"We purchased the building in 1996 with the intention of rehabilitating," she explains. "Right from the very beginning, we knew this was coming down the line. It's been hard to wait."

Davidson emphasizes the green aspects of the Palace rehab—rooftop solar arrays, high efficiency boilers. These initiatives were singled out not just to set an example of sustainability for other developers, she says, but to decrease operational expenses. MHA currently relies on rent payments to cover upkeep. Savings accrued after the project will keep rents static, she says.

"Our experience at the Garden District...the month we put the [photovoltaic] panels online, the electricity charges in that building dropped 75 percent. Over the course of the summer, for four or five months, we put energy back into the grid."

The project calls for a list of improvements not just to the building's infrastructure but to living standards. MHA intends to install a rooftop deck, bike lockers, and a more intensive security system. Several tenants have complained about noise from concerts in the bars downstairs, prompting a need for some soundproofing.

Despite Davidson's enthusiasm, some questions remain unanswered. MHA plans to use some funding to restore the Palace's historic look. That means fresh brickwork, a new façade on the ground floor, a hard awning—all details that Badlander complex owner Scott McIntyre says he's still in the dark about. MHA and McIntyre jointly own the building.

"We still have to sit down and decide, because our business names have to be somewhere on the awning," McIntyre says. "We don't know how that's going to work. We don't know too much at all."

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