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Vacant for most of the last decade, the old National Guard armory building in downtown Bozeman is beginning to show signs of life.

Plans are moving forward to repurpose the building into an eight-story boutique hotel complete with event space and at least a pair of restaurants, said Cory Lawrence, CEO of local travel company Off the Beaten Path and the project’s main backer.

The adjacent parking lot on the corner of Mendenhall Street and Willson Avenue is closed temporarily for construction, which Lawrence described as a “surgical demolition.”

Called the Etha Hotel, the adaptive reuse project will retain 98 percent of the original armory building, which was constructed in 1941. The space remained in use until 2009 and was purchased by Lawrence and several other investors in 2012.

“Any time you’re doing something that’s different or unique, there’s going to be some complexities,” Lawrence said. “It’s taken a lot of effort and careful consideration, but we couldn’t be more pleased to be migrating forward.”

“It’s had a life, that’s for sure, and now it’s going to have a new one.”

The current design, proposed by Bozeman-based Venue Architects, calls for the conversion of the concrete structure into as much as 17,000 square feet of event space with an American bistro on the ground floor. The former band room is set to become a speakeasy-style pub, while the building’s roof will also have space for a bar or restaurant.

The attached steel-frame hotel will include 122 rooms and likely a pool.

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants will operate the rooms and eateries.

The building’s Art Deco style will mirror that of architect Fred Willson, who designed the armory. Lawrence said some of the more subtle elements of the project, such as doors and awnings, have been taken from sketches Willson made that were not included in the original design.

“It will be a great homage to Fred and all the things that wonderful architect has done around the community,” he said.

As for parking, Lawrence’s group leases 100 spaces — separate from public parking — in the downtown garage.

The entire project is expected to wrap up by the end of 2019, Lawrence said.

“We haven’t seen anything like this since the Baxter was built,” he said. “This is a Bozeman deal, and we’re very excited to be contributing to this exciting landscape that exists in our downtown core. It’s a great feeling.”

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Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or lkendall@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @lewdak

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