Downtown is truly the place to be — again.
Set on the idyllic walking mall of Last Chance Gulch in Helena, the Placer Hotel has become the epicenter of a Montana downtown revitalization. Urban Mountain Development, with owners Karina Christensen and Blair Williams, has added the essential ingredient to any vibrant downtown community — classic architecture located close to cultural amenities.
Urban Mountain Development bought the historic Placer Hotel in 2008 and is remaking it into Helena’s premiere downtown living destination. The Placer has combined turn-of-the-century architecture along with dwellings that display modern design and décor. Built in 1913, the Placer shows classic architecture that captures the historic spirit of Montana.
By utilizing the existing structure and capitalizing on the building’s timeless artistry, Urban Mountain has developed studio, one- and two-bedroom units priced from $95,000 to $145,000. Some of the units have been purchased side-by-side and combined by removing adjoining walls, creating an urban loft experience that’s new and unique to Montana. Originally planned to be a three-story building in 1913, the Placer Hotel grew to seven stories after gold was discovered during excavation of the basement. The unexpected find bankrolled the additional four stories. Tales of gold discoveries from Last Chance Gulch are legendary Montana lore and are just one historical aspect that Helena has to cherish.
Urban Mountain Development knows that with such a historic building, they have become stewards of history — a role they readily embrace. "A community comes from the social fabric that surrounds it. By respecting the past and building for the future, we honor the historic community. We are focused on developing people, place, and prosperity," said Williams.
By offering 60 residences in the existing seven-story structure, the developers avoided the need for another multiple-lot, multiple-acre subdivision somewhere on the outskirts of town. The overall footprint of the building is confined to one magnificent corner on Last Chance Gulch, within walking distance to schools, theatres, museums, parks, trails, libraries, dining and shopping. Walking, biking and transit offer quick access to everything a resident would need.
Urban Mountain Development has immediate plans for the main floor, as well as the basement. The main floor and lobby area are being remodeled to include a coffee bar, and the basement will be home to a wine cellar that will offer live music — a resurrection of the original Ratskeller that once welcomed locals and visitors. The basement will also have a high-end fitness center and spa facility. Residents of the Placer can enjoy the city’s overwhelming cultural choices presented daily. Right out their front door is Mount Helena, one of America’s largest city parks, which towers over town.
The Myrna Loy offers live and cinematic theatre, and the Grand Street Theatre has a constant rotation of plays throughout the year. “Helena is lucky that we don't have to create a historic downtown experience — it already exists,” said Christensen. “Our walking mall makes the downtown feel more like a European village.” •