What is the Montana Historical Society?

    The 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 is the expanded home of the Montana Historical Society, and is envisioned to capture the grandeur and excitement of Montana. 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 Heritage Center is more than just a museum. It brings together our museum, our archives, and our research center. The updated and expanded museum will showcase more of the state’s irreplaceable treasures; the enhanced archives will protect our shared heritage; and the research center will make Montana’s history more readily available to everyone.

    Why does the Historical Society need a new Heritage Center?

    Building a larger facility ensures the Montana Historical Society will always collect, preserve, interpret, and display the artifacts, art, and stories that have shaped our lives and our land. We need a 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. Many items that are stored in both on-site and off-site locations are subject to less-than-ideal storage conditions. The Montana Heritage Center will allow safe and modern storage for MTHS’ extensive and priceless collections. The facility will provide public and legislative meeting space, food service, and other amenities. Additional parking also is a top priority for the Montana Historical Society, as well as grounds for outdoor events and festivals.

    Why does Montana need this?

    The economic impact of MTHS' 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 jobs across the state and increasing economic output to $49.3 million during the 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 spectacular 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. 

    A preliminary concept for the Montana Heritage Center was developed in 2010, but the design process was restarted in 2020 not only to update the concept, but also to incorporate new directives and priorities. The Building Committee was created to determine the structure, design, and look of the new Heritage Center. 

    The 2010 concept for construction at the Sixth and Roberts site had two primary components, which remain in the updated version:

      1. construct approximately 66,000 square feet of heritage display, interpretive, restoration/archival, and dual-purpose space (i.e. for MTHS, the legislature, and other groups);
      2. upgrade the existing 95,000 square feet of the 1952 Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building to continue to house MTHS operational programs, add two classrooms, improve the existing limited display areas, and upgrade the existing archive storage spaces (mostly mechanical systems upgrades).

    The Cushing Terrell design melds new with historic, using the space between the two structures to create a dramatic entry connecting the two buildings.

    Why is the Heritage Center being built now?

    The 2005 Montana Legislature authorized $7.5 million in general obligation bonds, which allowed initial planning to move forward, but was not sufficient to finalize designs or to begin construction. Since that time, almost $38 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 authority to seek $30 million in private donations, and House Bill 540, which authorized $7.5 million in general obligation bonds, for the Montana Historical Society building project. The 66th Montana Legislature (2019) passed Senate Bill 338 (The Montana Museums Act of 2020) and House Bill 5, which authorized $37 million in accommodation tax funding for the project. The 67th Montana Legislature (2021) increased the cap on accommodation tax funding in House Bill 5 to $41 million for the project. The 2019 Legislature also tasked MHS with raising at least$10 million more in private and foundation funds. So far, MTHS has raised almost $38 million.

    Follow the links above to find the text of the bills and more information about the legislative process.

    Who is paying for this?

    Primarily, tourism is paying for the Montana Heritage Center through accommodations tax revenues. No property tax dollars are being used and no general fund or reallocation of existing revenues are required. Senate Bill 338 increased the 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 of the Montana Heritage Center. 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. Support the 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 to $41 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 initial project estimate of $57.7 million was based upon the 2009 concept, adjusted for inflation for construction of the new Montana Heritage Center display and archival space, and upgrades to the 1952 Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building to continue to house MHS operational programs. As of 2021, the project's estimated price tag is now about $81 million, due in large part to supply chain issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and labor shortages. However, MTHS and its partners are working on a value engineering process to reduce the costs. MHS also has committed to raising $40 million from private parties and foundations, up from its previous goal of to fundraise $10 million.

    Who decided where the Heritage Center will be located?

    The “Department of Administration Act” of 1963 established that state agency (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). That means D of A was responsible for choosing the location of the Heritage Center. D of A conducted complete research, an analytical review, and considered input from all interested parties as the design process moved 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. Former D of A Director John Lewis used this information and in December 2019, chose Sixth and Roberts for the Heritage Center location.

    Who will design the Heritage Center?

    After the 59th legislature passed House Bill 5 (authority to fundraise) and House Bill 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-D of A 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 the more recent funding of the project by the 66th Legislature, Cushing Terrell re-visited the design with a fresh, clean-slate approach to come up with the current design.

    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?

    The project will not raise property taxes. But there is a slight increase in statewide accommodations tax from 3% to 4% ($1 per $100) through Senate Bill 338. 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. 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 took 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 at the current site at Sixth and Roberts. In the course of reviewing plans from 2009, however, further discussion ensued regarding the logistical and construction costs for maintaining two separate buildings across Sixth Avenue, as originally envisioned. It was determined that connecting the Heritage Center addition to the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building would save money, increase parking spaces, and create a better experience for visitors. 

    The new building will connect to the existing home of the Montana Historical Society across Sixth Avenue. A new entrance and café plaza will connect the two buildings. The interior spaces of the 70-year-old 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 the 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. All past meetings are recorded and publicly available and a series of virtual stakeholder and public meetings are being held to gather feedback on interpretive design elements and more. Visit our Homepage to see “Upcoming Meetings & Events” and register on this website for notifications.

    When will the Heritage Center be complete?

    Construction activities kicked off 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 was essential to prepare the site for full construction, which began in 2021.

    To allow the Historical Society to remain open and operating as much as possible, the current phasing concept involves construction of the Heritage Center addition beginning in May 2021, with installation of exhibits beginning in the spring of 2023. Upgrades to the existing Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building (the current Historical Society facility) will take place in 2023-2024, with a grand re-opening event tentatively planned for late 2024 or early 2025. See the Build page for more detailed information. 

    How do I make a donation to the Historical Society?

    Thank you for asking! https://mhs.mt.gov/about/Donate