From the sweeping plains of Sidney to the rugged peaks of Glacier National Park, Montana is celebrated for its dramatic terrain and diverse peoples. Our stories are as complex as our landscape, and so is our history. Today, for tomorrow, the Montana Historical Society’s new Montana Heritage Center will reflect those distinct variations, serving as a place to protect, celebrate, and share our past.
As the first new building on the Capitol Campus in almost forty years, this is an amazing opportunity to create a spectacular structure that complements the Capitol while reflecting all that makes Montana so special. It will be a home that’s as explosive as lightning bolts and soothing as new fallen snow, yet harmonizes with the existing buildings and the natural landscape.
When first conceived in 2009, the plan called for a new building on the north side of Sixth Avenue, connected to the existing but renovated structure on the south side by an underground corridor. However, in 2019 when Cushing Terrell considered that arrangement, they came up with a bold new plan.
With the approval of the Helena City Commission, a short section of Sixth Avenue between Roberts and Saunders was closed directly north of the existing Montana Historical Society headquarters. This allows the new building to connect with the historic Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building, creating one distinct structure that will further cement the Montana Historical Society status as the “Smithsonian of the West.”
Within those walls, MHS will continue with its efforts of more than 155 years to:
- record, preserve, protect and celebrate the rich history of Montana’s diverse cultures;
- provide access to the rich collections of Montana’s Museum and the Research Center;
- help shape the future based on the lessons of the past;
- teach those lessons of our past to Montanans of all ages;
- attract visitors whose love of history draws them to our state.
In these ways and many more, the treasures of the Montana Historical Society enrich our state and enhance our quality of life.
The new facility will add 66,000-square-feet of space, which includes a 15,000-square-foot Homeland Gallery exhibit space and a 6,150-square-foot audio/visual event center, capable of hosting events for more than 300 people. That space includes storage and a kitchen. A café will offer coffee and deli items for purchase by all Capitol Campus employees and visitors.
The estimate for the new building and exhibit space is $52 million, which includes interpretive, interactive displays and designs, and expanded parking on the Capitol Campus.
Architects and engineers are striving for the most energy efficient building possible, with an eye toward LEED Gold certification. Native plants will be an integral part of the landscaping, with winding paths evoking creeks among the foliage that leads to the welcoming main entrance plaza. A large part of that landscaping will be around the 445 parking spots, which is a 92-spot increase over what currently exists.
In the existing Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building, the Charlie Russell exhibit space will expand to 5,000 square feet. A total of 67,000 square feet will be renovated, including updated lighting and climate control.
Leaders and citizens from across Montana are validating this momentous and important effort while ensuring its success. Legislators from both parties support the project and recognize the value of this investment.
The economic impact of the Montana Historical Society operations is significant now, and even before the Montana Heritage Center is completed it will create jobs, increase business sales, and provide a substantial ongoing boost to Montana’s economy.
In fact, a 2016 study by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research shows the impact of the Montana Heritage Center will be considerable by adding new 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 heritage campus at the Capitol worthy of Montana’s wonderful history and its future.
Our history shows us that Montanans never back down from a challenge. This spirit makes Montana “The Last Best Place.” In that spirit, the Montana Historical Society asks for your support. Please lend your name to this effort. Consider a gift to the Montana Heritage Center Campaign. For more information, visit MontanasMuseum.org.