Open aisle one 

The new Safeway on the corner of Scott Street and West Broadway is slated to open Dec. 12. The new digs replace the antiquated building down the street and complete a neighborhood gentrification stretching back some 12 years and one lawsuit.

In 1996, administrators at St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center decided they wanted the lot where the old Safeway stands. At the time, Big Broadway, the City Shops building, an apartment complex and a salt and sand dump were situated at the site of the new Safeway. St. Pat’s owned the Big Broadway land and realized the property would be much more valuable if they could package it as a two-block plot. The hospital acquired it from the city and convinced Safeway to move down the street in exchange for land where the old store currently stands.

“Then,” says Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, “all hell broke loose.” The neighborhood, he adds with a laugh, “is a very active neighborhood and was at the pinnacle of its activism.”

Residents had just completed a neighborhood plan aimed at revamping Broadway in the spirit of Higgins Avenue. A chain supermarket, with a sizable parking lot and cookie-cutter appearance, didn’t fit that downtown mold. A special zoning measure was created and Safeway made some concessions, Behan says. For instance, they agreed to build the store along the street and designed it to resemble the old City Shops building. Behan says most residents were satisfied with the arrangement, realizing that easy access to a grocery is mandatory for a thriving downtown.

Other neighbors weren’t so satisfied. They filed a lawsuit challenging the zoning and the case went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court, which sided with the city. In March 2008, the two properties finally exchanged hands and at least this chapter should be complete when the new Sa
feway opens Friday.
The next move belongs to St. Patrick. Behan guesses the hospital will demolish the old Safeway to lay a parking lot or build a facility to house some of the administrative services that currently sit across Broadway. However, he acknowledges, “You’ll have to talk to [St. Patrick Vice President] Virginia Iverson about that.”

Iverson: “We have no plans at this time.”
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