Berkshire Hathaway to expand; favors fairgrounds parking structure

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Berkshire Hathaway plans to embark on a $1.14 million expansion and renovation of its South Avenue business, and it remains interested in working with the Missoula County Fairgrounds to find a long-term solution to the neighborhood’s limited parking options.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors on Thursday agreed to contribute $50,000 in funding to improve Berkshire’s building facade as part of the company’s larger renovation project. The funding comes from the agency’s Facade Improvement Program.

“Their project will allow the business to expand by up to 15 full-time equivalent brokers and related staff,” said Chris Behan, assistant MRA director. “It may also encourage other folks in the area to look at upgrading their property.”

The current structure offers 8,400 square feet on two floors. The project will expand the property by 3,400 square feet at a cost of $1.14 million.

According to MRA, the business has been located at its current location at 1020 South Avenue West since 1989. Dan Ermatinger, broker-owner of Berkshire, joined the firm at the current location in 1991 when it was still owned by Gillespie Realty Co.

“It’s been kind of an anchor on that block,” said Ermatinger. “Dale Gillespie founded that company way back in 1958. We’re suited up for the next long run and we’re looking forward to this building as our business continues to grow.”

Daniel Kemmis, a member of the MRA board who served as Missoula mayor from 1990 to 1996, set in motion the eventual redirect of traffic through what was formerly known as Malfunction Junction.

Kemmis said Thursday he feared the new traffic pattern would essentially isolate businesses on South Avenue from the rest of the neighborhood. Ermatinger said he too had his doubts early on, though he assured Kemmis that the redirect did little to affect his business.

“It did in effect bifurcate traffic and minimize our exposure to drive-by traffic,” Ermatinger said. “We thought that would be a difficult reality when, in fact, it’s been a good traffic solution.”

Ermatinger said he was confident enough in the South Avenue neighborhood that he decided to purchase the building now poised for renovation. They also looked at property on Mullan Road and North Reserve Street, but decided to stay in the Midtown district.

“All in all, we decided as a matter of convenience for our agents and clients, as far as commuter time, that this was much more central,” Ermatinger said. “It was part of an area that’s definitely on the up, and we were very bullish on the long-term prospects of this core area of Missoula.”

Ermatinger, along with other South Avenue businesses, are closely watching Missoula County’s plans to redevelop the fairgrounds, which sits just across the street. While the direction of that project could impact area businesses, Ermatinger said he’s pleased with the direction the effort is taking.

He and Behan both said discussions are under way to build a parking garage at the fairgrounds. Doing so would accommodate traffic during the annual Western Montana Fair and provide South Avenue businesses with needed parking.

“They’re very interested in trying to develop that concept with a long-term lease with neighborhood businesses,” Ermatinger said. “I think it’s a great thing to pursue. You’d have some shared uses with fair events and resident businesses.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com