Tester tours award-winning Sears Building

Montana Standard

by Tim Trainor

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester toured the Sears Building Monday as two businesses located inside near the grand opening.

Tenants will begin moving into the upstairs Sears Building Lofts Dec.1, and the first floor Hennessy Market, a locally owned grocery, opens Dec. 3 during Butte's Christmas Stroll.

"It's been a very long process," said Nick Kujawa, project developer. "To be this close has us all excited."

And Monday brought more good news for the project: On the same day the grocery opens, the Sears Building will receive a national "Development of Distinction" award for its innovative financing and historic restoration of a community asset.

The award, given by the nationally certified accounting and consulting firm Novogradac Community Development Foundation, noted the community benefits that come from a linchpin project. The apartments will provide customers for other Uptown businesses while the grocery store will prove beneficial to Uptown residents and workers.

The project has already employed more than 80 construction workers since work began in December 2009 and is projected to create more than 45 permanent jobs over the next 10 years.

Kujawa said it is nice to receive recognition for the unique financing approach to the project, which included both Historic Preservation and New Market tax credits secured through the Montana Community Development Corp. It took him longer to work through the financing than it did to finish construction, he said.

Tester said it was encouraging to see such a project come to fruition in Uptown Butte.

"It's a good old building," said Tester. "To revamp it, revitalize it, it's very impressive."

He said boosting Montana's infrastructure is a priority and tax credits that can help supplement private investment remain a good investment.

"Seeing young people get involved with economic development is always nice," he said. "They have a vision for this building."

Kujawa and his wife, Jennifer Hurley, said they always remained confident in the project, which they first took on in March 2006. But getting investors and others to see their side required convincing.

"It took a lot of work, a lot of time," he said. "But again, finishing construction isn't being finished. It's just another start."

Kujawa said some apartments remain available, but noted that he is pleased with how well the units have filled thus far. As for the Hennessy Market, Kujawa and the staff are stocking shelves and making final preparations for opening night.

Starting Dec. 3, the store will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

The Science Mine, a nonprofit that will operate out of the Sears Building basement, will begin constructing its exhibits next month and is slated to open in spring 2011.