A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Old Sawmill District in Missoula on Tuesday, marking the beginning of what will be a $250 million development over the next 10 years.
The site will eventually be home to high-end condominiums, sustainable affordable housing, a new brewpub, a boutique 200-bed student residence, an age-restricted living-learning community, executive residential, and commercial buildings and other projects.
As recently as five years ago, the 46 acres of land south of the Clark Fork River between California Street and the railroad bridge was an abandoned, polluted former lumber mill site.
For the past 13 years, developers Ed and Leslie Wetherbee, along with Kevin Mytty of Quality Construction, have worked with a variety of city and state agencies and consultants to breathe new life into the area.
The groundbreaking was technically for the first luxury condominium building, the 20-unit Polleys Square A, which will feature secure underground parking, electric vehicle charging options, energy-efficient designs, high-speed data connections and special upgrade packages.
“Many investors and partners have played a large role in what’s going on,” Ed Wetherbee told the crowd of several hundred. “This was a blighted industrial site for many years, and it’s coming to a new life in a new phase today. This has been a public/private effort, and I cannot emphasize enough the interaction and the help that we’ve had from the city and various organizations. It took a lot of work and a lot of people to help get us here.”
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When developers began the planning process, the site was not owned by the city, so they had to go through annexation and navigate all new zoning.
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the Silver Foundation, the Millsite Revitalization Project and other city officials helped collaborate on connecting the site to the city bike path network and the 14.5-acre Silver Park dedicated last year.
“It’s been a long time coming, and we’re very excited to be finally breaking ground,” Mytty said. “The developers of Polleys Square have been so thoughtful about this process. The end result is going to be an extremely attractive addition to the area.”
Homeword Inc., a local nonprofit, is building a 26-unit affordable housing complex on the west end of the site, and Lolo Peak Brewing Co. plans to build an 8,000-square-foot brewpub and restaurant near Ogren-Allegiance Park.
“Most importantly, everything on this site has been reused and recycled, and that’s a theme that really has carried us through over the years, including the 50,000 cubic yards of wood waste that will now be compost for other city parks," Wetherbee said.
"The old concrete foundations have been crushed and are now being used as fill and some of the logs and tin are being used as pavilions. And there was a small homeless population here, and we all agreed to use the proceeds from the scrap sale to donate to the Poverello Center.”
Together with nearby McCormick Park and the baseball stadium, Wetherbee said he thinks the site is now the largest recreational complex in the city. Wetherbee said several thousand new jobs will be created by the construction.
“What we have with Old Sawmill District is something that Missoula has not seen yet,” Leslie Wetherbee said. “It is high-density urban living. It’s going to create a new neighborhood for Missoula that we don’t have yet. It will be a pedestrian neighborhood within walking distance of downtown, the university, the hub of the trail system. So we’re really excited about everything we have to offer the city.”
Eventually, there will be four of the high-end condominium buildings, each named after the original mill’s first owner, Edgar Harvey Polleys and his son Edgar Garwood Polleys. The descendants of the Polleys family were on hand Tuesday. A senior housing project will be built down the street.
Mayor John Engen joked that because he grew up nearby, he first learned to drink Sterno at the site.
“This was indeed a working lumber mill for a long time,” he said. “A lot of this was a hobo jungle. We don’t call people hobos anymore, but at that time things were a little rough down here and things have improved greatly. Missoula’s a great community, and this is a great place in our larger great place and there’s more to come. We’re very excited about what’s happening here.”