HELENA — The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation donated $25 million to the Montana Historical Society for the construction of the new Montana Heritage Center in Helena.
The state says the gift is the largest in the Montana Historical Society’s history.
The foundation’s gift will help cover construction costs of the $81 million Montana Heritage Center, upgrades to the existing Montana Historical Society building and landscaping for the new campus.
“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Dennis and Phyllis Washington, the Montana Heritage Center will preserve Montana’s treasured history for generations to come,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said. “The new center promises to offer Montanans and other visitors a glimpse into our state’s tremendous history. With the Washingtons’ support, we are one step closer to seeing the center come to fruition.”
“I’m honored to partner with the Montana Historical Society in realizing their vision of an inspiring space filled with images, objects, and artifacts that illustrate Montana’s rich history and true spirit and character. We want to create a place where visitors and future Montanans can experience and better understand how human history intertwines with natural history, and how the people that settled Montana shaped the land and were also shaped by it,” Dennis Washington said.
Construction began on the Montana Heritage Center in September of 2020. The facility will house an expanded 15,000-square-foot Homeland historical gallery, with artifacts dating from 14,000 years ago up to the present; a 6,150-square-foot event center with a capacity for more than 300 people; and a café offering beverages and deli items.
The project was initially expected to cost more than $52 million dollars, with estimates rising to $81 million for the 66,000-square-foot addition, plus the renovations and landscaping. Funding for the Montana Heritage Center was approved by the 2019 Legislature through a bed tax.
The project’s funding includes $41 million from the state accommodations tax, $7.5 million in general obligation bonds, and $900,000 in energy savings grants. In addition to the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation gift, MHS already has raised almost $8 million in grants and private donations and is committed to covering the rest of the construction costs.
“We are so grateful for the support we have received and continue to see in a wide variety of ways, from small and large donations by Montana ranchers, banks, foundations, and other individuals,” said MHS Director Molly Kruckenberg. “These donations show how important our history is to our fellow Montanans and visitors.”
The new Montana Heritage Center will open in late 2024 or early 2025.