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Curry no longer part of group seeking to redevelop old Libby High School

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | April 30, 2024 7:00 AM

The ownership group working to renovate the old Libby High School no longer includes Scott Curry.

According to a press release from Libby Lofts, the school, vacant since 2008, is now under the new ownership of ZT Development (Zach and Tracy McNew) and Brick Briar Development Group (Bruce Weatherby and Joan Oakland). They recently completed the buyout of NW Properties (Scott Curry), with each new partner acquiring a 50% stake in the project.

“We’re thankful we could do it,” Tracy McNew said. “It simplifies things.”

McNew said some trees have been removed on the property and there are plans to install a drinking fountain, funded by the LOR Foundation, on the Mineral Avenue side of the property in May. The outdoor fountain will also serve as a refill station for water bottle users.

Tracy McNew said in a phone interview with The Western News that the group is seeking funding to do the repair work on the roof and walls where heavy snow collapsed part of the building, uninsured at the time, in 2017. 

The collapsed section of the roof and bowed-out wall on the Memorial Center side of the building are also scheduled for repair this year, ensuring that the building is structurally sound and visually appealing, according to the press release.

The building, which received its historic designation in 2008 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, could benefit if Libby Lofts gets a National Historic Preservation Grant from the state of Montana.

The developers are seeking $650,000 to restore the exterior of the old building as well as replace and refurbish windows and fix the roof. If the grant is secured, the developers must supply a 20% match.

The money for the state preservation program comes from the state lodging tax. The state legislature approved the Montana Museums Act of 2020, which increased the bed tax from 3% to 4%.

McNew said a lot hinges on getting the state grant.

“The plan remains to build 26 apartments, with three as teacher-subsidized housing that would have a lower rent amount, but getting the grant is very important,” she said.

But the developers are in a waiting game on the grant. A decision won’t be made until state legislators reconvene next year. If they do get the grant, they’d receive the money in the fall of 2025.

“Libby Lofts extends its heartfelt thanks to those who have written letters of support for the grant application and the overall revitalization of this important community landmark,” the release stated.

The project, which is expected to take three to five years to complete, will community meeting room, historical displays indoors, a community park area and outdoor signage highlighting the building's rich history.

“The new ownership group is dedicated to preserving the building's historic architecture while repurposing it into apartment units with an attractive and educational community space,” the release stated.

The developers had sought more than $100,000 from the Libby Economic Development Fund, but that was put on hold while city councilors decide how and where they want to spend the $1.5 million that still exists.

The large brick building on East Lincoln Boulevard next to the Memorial Center, built in 1917, served as the high school, then elementary school and finally the home of the Lincoln County Campus of Flathead Valley Community College before it moved out in 2000.

It has sat vacant since then. Prior to the collapse, the Libby School District sold the building to Eric Berry and Scott Curry of Libby Lofts in April 2008. Libby Lofts had one year to pay the district the remainder of the purchase price. The property was to be held in escrow in the meantime. The goal of the developers was to turn the building into condominiums and office space.

A month later, tragedy struck when Berry died following a motorcycle accident near Marion.

“After his death, the project imploded and it was very unfortunate,” Weatherby said.

But some progress had occurred. In an Aug. 1, 2008, story in The Western News, Curry said spaces on the top floor for condominiums were virtually sold out.

Nevertheless, Berry’s death meant his estate was in probate, investor interest waned and renovations were stalled. Curry’s hopes of having the work completed early in 2009 were ended.

He blamed a slow-moving judicial system.

“The judge didn’t make a (prompt) decision of who was to own Libby Lofts,” Curry said then in a December 2010 story in The Western News. “It got to a point where people involved with Libby Lofts didn’t want to put money into it.”

Lawsuits on both sides continued the disruption.

In August 2010, a suit accused three of its investors of sabotaging efforts to raise money for the project.

In response, the three defendants countersued, claiming that Curry, the Libby Lofts’ manager and sole owner, misappropriated their investment and intentionally failed to disclose the financial condition of Libby Lofts when they agreed to invest.

Ron Carter signed an agreement in February 2008. William and Penni Riggles entered into an investment agreement with Libby Lofts in August 2008. 

Curry said he filed suit on behalf of the remaining Libby Lofts investors after receiving a demand letter from the defendants’ attorney. Curry claims the legal document “demanded ownership of everything,” including the land, equipment and designs “in exchange for the small amounts that they claim they’re owed.”

Curry had changed course, deciding to build senior apartments instead of condos and commercial spaces.

“We’re trying to change the project from condos for sale to senior apartments for rent, which may be some of the basis for the arguing,” he said at the time.

The suit between Curry and Carter and the Riggles was settled in 2012, according to court documents.