When former Montana State University professor Gordon "Corky" Brittan heard Bozeman's Story Mansion might be for sale, he decided to ask the alternative energy company he works for to buy it.
Exergy Integrated Systems, a wind turbine manufacturer based in Boise, Idaho, with offices in Helena and Great Falls, "has a deep - perhaps unusual - interest in historical architecture," said Brittan, a Regents Professor who taught philosophy at MSU for 37 years before becoming director of new product development for Exergy.
Exergy's president and CEO, James Carkulis, has always had a passion for old buildings, Brittan said.
"When I first told him the mansion was for sale, he just said, ‘Buy it,'" Brittan said Tuesday. "He said, ‘Somebody's got to take care of it,' and that was it."
Last winter, the Bozeman City Commission announced it would take offers from nonprofit groups willing to take the grand but expensive century-old house off the city's hands.
Commissioners suggested a purchase price of $391,222, the amount of general fund money that the city spent two years ago on renovating the first floor that wasn't covered by a federal grant and city matching funds.
At that price, the city wouldn't recoup about $1.9 million in general fund money already put into the mansion, but commissioners reasoned that giving it to a nonprofit group could both preserve it and prevent future expenses.
"In this time of scarce resources, it's exciting to have a company come in who has the best interests of the mansion in mind," Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said Tuesday.
While $391,222 is well below the appraised value of the mansion, and though state law requires the city to sell property for at least 90 percent of its appraised value, the law makes an exception for nonprofits.
Under the proposal, Exergy would partner with Friends of the Story Mansion to form a joint nonprofit and continue to operate the first floor as a community center and grounds as a city park.
Over five years, they would also restore the second floor, third floor and carriage house to be rented out to nonprofit and educational organizations.
The commission will consider whether to enter into negotiations with Exergy during its regular meeting Monday. If commissioners decide to pursue the sale, the deal would go through several public hearings and would not be final until October at the earliest. Rentals of the mansion are expected to continue to be honored.
Exergy doesn't have offices in Bozeman. But Brittan said the company doesn't have any intention of having an office in the mansion. In fact, businesses aren't allowed there because it's zoned for residential and community uses.
"We want to try to keep the spaces as close to the original spaces as we can," Brittan said.
Exergy's core values include promoting the educational and cultural life of its communities and preservation of historic architecture, according to the company's proposal. Its Boise headquarters occupies the top three floors of the Hoff Building, a historic art deco building that the company restored.
Story Mansion was built for the family of T. Byron Story, a son of Nelson Story, and then sold to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which owned it for 81 years. The city bought the mansion in 2003 amid concerns that private developers would raze it.
"The only reason for purchasing the mansion was to protect and preserve it," Winn said. "Exergy is a company that has the best of intentions and the means to fulfill those intentions."
Exergy is the only group making a serious offer on the mansion, Winn said.
Thrive, a Bozeman nonprofit that provides family and child services, had expressed interest but later changed its mind.
The city has spent a total of $3.7 million on the mansion, according to a memo to commissioners. That total represents $1.4 million in federal and state grants and $2.3 million in general funds, collected from local property taxes.
Minus the $391,222 purchase price, the city would be out about $1.9 million in general fund money.
However, in the two years the city has been operating the mansion as a community center, renting it out for weddings, meetings and other events, revenues have barely covered expenses, Winn said.
And further restoration would be costly.
Brittan said Exergy has had early conversations with MSU administrators about a university group, such as the Institute for the Humanities, becoming an anchor tenant in the mansion.
The mansion's second floor, with eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and two balconies, is ideally suited to function as office space for small nonprofit organizations, according to Exergy's proposal.
Also on the second floor, the company has proposed creating an apartment to house a caretaker, visiting artists or faculty.
The third floor, originally used as a ballroom, could be remodeled as an exhibition or meeting venue, the company said. And the carriage house could one day function as a museum.
"We're proposing to do what's necessary to make sure (the mansion) is restored," Brittan said.
Amanda Ricker can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2628.