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'Temporary solution' to M&M gets funding, goal to rebuild still alive

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Selina Pankovich and Tom Cronnelly

Selina Pankovich and Tom Cronnelly stand outside the OMG! Mongolian Grill at 17 N. Main St. this past February. Pankovich bought the building from Cronnelly with plans to open a bar and eatery there and eventually make it an extension to a rebuilt M&M at its original location.

Butte’s Uptown tax-increment district is helping the owner of the M&M Cigar Store that burned down last year pay for renovations to an adjacent building so she can open a new bar and eatery.

But Selina Pankovich still wants to rebuild the iconic M&M where it stood and if a partnership and other things pan out, the next-door building that was home to OMG! Mongolian Grill would become an extension of the M&M.

“I’m hoping that this is just a temporary solution to the M&M and that we have a rebuilt M&M in a year or two,” Pankovich told the board that oversees Butte’s Uptown Revitalization Agency and the tax district it oversees.

The board agreed Tuesday to grant Pankovich $42,450 to cover 25% of some planned renovations to the former Mongolian Grill building. They will include structural repairs and upgrades to electrical, plumbing and heating-and-cooling systems.

The URA board has been receiving and approving more grant applications in recent months and OK’d funding for 13 additional projects on Tuesday alone. Officials say it's a reflection of growing interest and investment in Uptown Butte.

“I think our record this calendar year was 18 projects,” said URA Director Karen Byrnes, who is also Butte-Silver Bow’s community development director. “It’s an exciting time for Uptown Butte and the entire community.

“I think the best way to sort of capture the impact of our program is to look at the amount of investment we leverage with the matching grants,” she said. “On this agenda alone, we supported $624,105 in total investment in 14 properties, granting $174,222.”

The other projects included stair and railing upgrades at the Hotel Finlen, infilling a vaulted alley and making other renovations at the Kenwood Building on West Broadway and turning an old building at 116 W. Granite St. into a modern office for a real estate agency.

A fire on May 7, 2021 completely destroyed the M&M, a beloved bar and eatery on North Main Street that had been a landmark in Butte for more than a century. It was also known in places far outside of the Mining City and Montana but today, it’s an empty space.

Although the URA grant on Tuesday was for the adjacent building, many in Butte hope the M&M will be rebuilt someday as close as possible to its original form.

“The fact that you are not wavering in restoring what was pretty much an iconic — the iconic building in Uptown Butte — is appreciated,” URA board member Bob Brown told Pankovich. “Everybody knows of the M&M. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world. If they know of Butte, they know of the M&M.”

Pankovich bought the adjacent building from Tom Cronnelly. Because of COVID and damage from the M&M fire, he and his wife, Kristi, decided not to reopen the Mongolian Grill. They said they received other purchase offers but wanted to work with Pankovich.

Her goal was to open a new restaurant and bar in that building and later make it an extension of a rebuilt M&M. She opened for one day on St. Patrick’s Day for a fundraiser but says more repairs and renovations were needed to open full-time.

A portion of those totaling $168,900 were eligible for URA funding and the board approved a grant that will pay 25% of those costs. The work must be done first before the URA dollars are paid out.

Under that work and additional plans, Pankovich wants to have a breakfast counter in that building and enclose an outdoor patio, among other things. She hopes to open that location by December, but given uncertainties in construction, is making no promises.

She can’t make promises about rebuilding the M&M either. Doing so, she told The Montana Standard on Wednesday, could cost at least $2.5 million to $3 million.

But it remains a goal and work on the next-door building could become part of it.

“I’m actually kind of entertaining a proposal to partner up with somebody to rebuild in the original location,” she told the URA board. “That also complicated things for a while there because I really didn’t know what the future of the additional building was.

“He and I weren’t eye-to-eye on that in the beginning but now that he’s really taken a look at my plans for this building and the former M&M, he does see the need for additional space."

She said under her designs, "If I rebuilt the M&M, I could extend the breakfast counter into the new building and have the bar in its original location." 

Other projects and their funding amounts Tuesday can be found on the URA’s Sept. 27 agenda at the county’s website. The direct link is: https://www.co.silverbow.mt.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/3678?html=true

All projects were funded in amounts as recommended by URA staff.

Montana Standard editor David McCumber reflects upon Butte's M&M Cigar Store, which burned on May 7, 2021.

Butte firefighters responded to a blaze at the historic M&M Bar and Cafe in Uptown on Friday morning at 3 a.m. Flames were 12 feet high and the firefighters worked for hours to put out the blaze.

Butte firefighters worked from the early morning hours and all day on Friday as a fire gutted the iconic M&M Cigar Store in Uptown Butte. 

As fire continued to burn in the iconic M&M Cigar Store in Butte Friday afternoon, firefighters detached the sign so it could be moved with a crane.

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