What is the Montana Historical Society?

    Montana Historical Society (MHS) was established in Virginia City in 1865 before Montana was even a state. It became a state agency in 1891 (22-3-101 MCA) and is charged with "the use, learning, culture, and enjoyment of the citizens of the state and for the acquisition, preservation, and protection of historical records, art, archival, and museum objects, historical places, sites, and monuments and the custody, maintenance, and operation of the historical library, museums, art galleries, and historical places, sites, and monuments." The Historical Society is governed by a 15-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor and is home to six programs: Montana’s Museum—our state history museum; the MHS Research Center and State Archives; the State Historic Preservation Office; the Montana Historical Society Press and publications; Outreach and Interpretation—our educational programs; and the Administration and Centralized Services Division.

    What is the Montana Heritage Center?

    The Montana Heritage Center—the new home for the Montana Historical Society—is envisioned to capture the grandeur and excitement of Montana itself. The Montana Heritage Center will be a welcoming place for all people—museum visitors, researchers, educators, school children, tour groups from Montana and beyond—to learn about Montana’s heritage in the shadow of Montana’s State Capitol. 

    The Center is more than just a museum. It brings together a museum, and archives, and a research center. The new museum will showcase more of the state’s irreplaceable treasures, the enhanced archives will protect our shared heritage, and the research center will bring Montana’s history to all people.

    Why does the Historical Society need a new Heritage Center?

    Building a larger facility will ensure the Montana Historical Society will always collect, preserve, interpret, and display the stories that have shaped our lives and our land. We need a new Heritage Center large enough to preserve and protect our ever-expanding collections and provide a modern venue for the collections to be exhibited and used by future generations of Montanans. Some of the state’s important artifacts and irreplaceable items are never seen by the public because of the limited display areas presently available in the existing building. Many items that are stored in both on-site and off-site locations are subject to less-than-ideal storage conditions. The new Heritage Center will allow safe and modern storage for MHS’s extensive and priceless collections. The new space will provide public and legislative meeting space, food service, and other amenities. Additional parking is also a top priority for the new Montana Heritage Center as well as grounds for outdoor events and festivals.

    Why does Montana need this?

    The economic impact of MHS operations is significant now, but with the Montana Heritage Center, jobs, income, business sales, and local spending will produce a substantial increase in Montana's economy. A 2016 study by the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research shows the impact of the Heritage Center would be considerable, including adding new jobs across the state and increasing economic output to $49.3 million during construction phase and $21.6 million per year thereafter. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a center worthy of Montana’s wonderful history and its future.

    Didn’t the Historical Society complete a design plan a while ago? What happened to that plan?

    After the 2005 passage of House Bill 5 and House Bill 540 by the 59th legislature, the Department of Administration solicited for consultants to perform detailed space and programmatic needs of the Society, analysis of potential locations for the new facility, and to develop a conceptual plan and cost estimate. That work was completed in 2009 and has been the basis for each subsequent request to the legislature to fund the project.

    The 2009 concept for construction at the 6th and Roberts site had two primary components:

    1. construction of approximately 65,000 new square feet of heritage display, interpretive, restoration/archival, and dual-purpose space (i.e. for MHS and the legislature when in session and other groups); and,
    2. upgrading the existing 95,000 square feet of the 1952 Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building to continue to house MHS operational programs, improve the existing limited display areas, and the existing archive storage spaces (mostly mechanical systems upgrades).

    Why is the Heritage Center being built now?

    The 2005 Montana Legislature authorized $7.5 million in general obligation bonds and $30 million in authority to seek private donations for the MHS building project. Since that time, nearly $6 million has been raised or pledged from private donors and foundations. Until the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 338 during the 66th legislature in Spring 2019, funding requests to fill the gap between the bonds and fundraising were unsuccessful.

    Was the Legislature involved?

    The 59th Montana Legislature (2005) passed House Bill 5, which granted $30 million in authority to seek private donations, and House Bill 540, which authorized $7.5 million in general obligation bonds, for the Montana Historical Society building project. Since that time, nearly $6 million has been raised or pledged from private donors and foundations. The 66th Montana Legislature (2019) passed Senate Bill 338 (The Montana Museums Act of 2020) and House Bill 5. Follow the links above to find the text of the bills and more information about the legislative process.

    Who is paying for this?

    Senate Bill 338 provides a new revenue source for important infrastructure projects all across Montana. It requires no general fund or reallocation of existing revenues. Senate Bill 338 increases statewide accommodations tax from 3% to 4% ($1 per $100). This tax is paid by Montana’s visitors and in-state travelers. It will generate $8 million to 10 million per year in new revenue, which is to be distributed for historic preservation purposes across Montana in addition to providing funding for construction. According to data from the Institute for Travel and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, approximately 75% of the accommodations spending is by non-resident visitors. This project will utilize the remaining bond authority of $6.7 million from 2005, approximately $34 million to $36 million of the Senate Bill 338 funding (based upon current revenue projections), and has tasked MHS with a total fundraising target of $10 million. Support their cause and donate HERE.

    How will the money be used?

    In the first five years (January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2024), 80% of the revenue (approximately $34 million-$36 million) will be applied to help fund the construction of the Montana Heritage Center. The remaining 20% of the revenue (approximately $13 million) will fund a “historic preservation grant program” that provides for infrastructure projects all across Montana for our many museums, local historical societies, and historic sites.

    Beginning January 1, 2025, the revenue will be reallocated to:

    • Historic Preservation Grant Program
    • Infrastructure projects as outlined by HB 553
    • Operations and maintenance for the Montana Heritage Center complex
    • Distribution to:
      • Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
      • Montana Department of Commerce
      • Regional convention and visitors’ bureaus
      • State/Tribal economic development commission

    Why does this cost so much money?

    The total project estimate of $50 million is based upon the 2009 concept adjusted for inflation for construction of the new Montana Heritage Center display and archival space and upgrading the 1952 Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building to continue to house MHS operational programs. Other designs may be accompanied by different costs.

    Who decides where the Heritage Center will be located?

    The “Department of Administration Act” of 1963 established the Department of Administration (DOA) as having full custodial care for all state-owned property and grounds within a 10-mile radius of the state capitol (2-17-811 MCA). Unless otherwise directed by specific legislation, DOA has the responsibility for choosing the location of the new Heritage Center. DOA is committed to conducting complete research, reviewing thorough analysis, and considering input from all parties as the design process moves forward. The site selection process entailed a thorough review and re-establishment of the Montana Historical Society mission, goals, and project criteria with the steering committee, building committee, and stakeholder groups. At the same time, consultants conducted data collection and analysis of potential locations based on this input. Director John Lewis used this information and chose 6th & Roberts for the new Heritage Center location.

    Who will design the Heritage Center?

    The 59th legislature passed House Bills 5 (authority to fundraise) and 540 ($7.5M in bonds), the Department of Administration solicited for qualified design firms in accordance with Title 18, Chapter 8, Part 2, and CTA Architects/Engineers (now Cushing Terrell) was appointed in 2007 by then-DOA Director Janet Kelly as required by 18-2-112 MCA. Cushing Terrell's appointment is applicable for the full duration of the Project regardless of the timeline involved. Because of the prior funding limitations, Cushing Terrell was tasked at that time to analyze potential building sites, provide a detailed programmatic space analysis of the Montana Historical Society needs, and develop conceptual plans and cost estimates. This work was completed in 2009. With ten years having transpired between the 2009 concept and today’s funding of the Project by the 66th legislature, Cushing Terrell been directed to re-start the design with a fresh, clean-slate approach.

    Who will build the Heritage Center?

    Proposals for construction were received in May 2020 and Sletten Construction of Great Falls was successfully awarded the construction contract.

    Six Montana contractors submitted proposals based on criteria developed by the selection committee and participated in interviews. All six submittals demonstrated the quality of these firms and their capabilities to construct the project. Based upon the scoring criteria in the Request for Proposals, Sletten received the highest score among the competitors.

    Link to news release: https://news.mt.gov/montana-contractor-selected-for-heritage-center-project

    Will this raise my taxes?

    Senate Bill 338 increases statewide accommodations tax from 3% to 4% ($1 per $100). This tax is paid by Montana’s visitors and in-state travelers. It will generate $8 million-10 million per year in new revenue. According to data from the Institute for Travel and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, approximately 75% of the accommodations spending is by non-resident visitors.

    What will happen to the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building?

    During the site selection process (visit https://montanamuseum.org/select to learn more), the Building Committee picked up this project with a fresh look at potential sites, re-evaluation of the Montana Historical Society space needs, and development of potential concepts and cost/phasing models.

    At the conclusion of that process, it was determined that the best location - for a variety of reasons - remained the site at 6th Avenue & Roberts St. In the course of reviewing plans from 2009, however, there was further discussion of the logistical and construction costs of maintaining two separate buildings across 6th Avenue, as originally envisioned. It was determined that connecting the new expansion to the existing Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building would save money, increase parking, and create a better experience for visitors. 

    The new building expansion will connect to the existing home of the Montana Historical Society across 6th Avenue. A new entrance and café plaza will connect the two buildings. The interior spaces of the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building will be renovated. The building itself, however, is on the National Register of Historic Places and the exterior of the building will not be altered. 

    The building addition will both honor and complement this historic building. Learn more about the design inspiration and plans here.  


    Will there be ways for the public to participate in the project?

    Yes! Public participation and input is a vital component of the project’s success and additional information will be forthcoming as the Department continues to develop the project’s organizational structure and processes from data collection and analysis to design and construction.

    When will the Heritage Center be complete?

    Construction activities are slated to commence the summer of 2020 with relocation of the Capitol Complex maintenance shops, major utilities work, removal of small structures, and clearing the site. This work is essential to prepare the site to expand parking for the 67th legislative session (January through April 2021) and to commence full construction of Montana’s museum in May 2021.

    To allow the Historical Society to remain open and operating as much as possible, the current phasing concept will involve construction of the new addition (the Heritage Center) from May 2021 to December 2022 and then take on upgrades to the existing Veterans & Pioneers Memorial Building (the current Historical Society facility) through all of 2023, with a grand re-opening event tentatively planned for early 2024.

    How do I make a donation to the Historical Society?