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.
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 “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 will entail 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 will conduct data collection and analysis of
potential locations based on this input.
After 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 was appointed in 2007 by
then-DOA Director Janet Kelly as required by 18-2-112 MCA. CTA’s appointment is
applicable for the full duration of the Project regardless of the timeline involved. Because
of the prior funding limitations, CTA 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, CTA has been directed to re-start the design with a fresh,
This has not been determined yet. The project will follow statutory procurement
requirements for state construction projects.
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.
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:
- 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
- upgrading the existing 95,000 square feet of the 1952 Veterans & Pioneers Building
to continue to house MHS operational programs, improve the existing limited display
areas, and the existing archive storage spaces (mostly mechanical systems upgrades).
The timeline is dependent upon completion of the site selection process and how
that will translate to the design process. A conceptual schedule based upon anticipated data
collection, analysis, and stakeholder input is in development and will be forthcoming.
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 $3.5 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.
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% ($1.00 per $100.00). This
tax is paid by Montana’s visitors and in-state travelers. It will generate $8-10 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-$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.
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’ & Pioneers Building to continue to house MHS operational
programs. Other designs may be accompanied by different costs.
In the first five years (January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2024), 80% of the revenue
(approximately $34-$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” than 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
Senate Bill 338 increases statewide accommodations tax from 3% to 4% ($1.00 per
$100.00). This tax is paid by Montana’s visitors and in-state travelers. It will generate
$8-10 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.
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
$49.3M during construction phase and $21.6M per year thereafter. This is a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to create a center worthy of Montana’s wonderful history and its future.
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 Historical Society 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
This question will be answered through a fresh look at potential sites,
re-evaluation of the Montana Historical Society space needs, and development of potential
concepts and cost/phasing models.