Missoula is a place that attracts entrepreneurs who own their own small startup businesses and those who work remotely, including freelancers or people who don’t need their own offices.
The internet has made it possible for many more people to work anywhere they want, and the Big Sky state’s outdoor recreation opportunities make it an enticing option.
But working from home or in coffee shops with spotty wireless internet isn’t always ideal. That’s why the developers of the Old Sawmill District near downtown Missoula have opened the C3 Worklounge, a coworking space designed to cater to the working traveler and other types of office-less entrepreneurs.
There’s microbrew draft beer, a kitchen area with a bar, large windows that open to a courtyard with fire pits and a technology infrastructure that allows for all kinds of virtual business. The lounge is located inside the larger Cambium Place building, a 160,000-square-foot mixed-use development that includes a Brio Fitness gym, saunas, a commercial kitchen with guest seating, a “great room” for lounging, conference rooms, office space and 69 residential apartments.
Ed Wetherbee, the co-developer of the district, saw the need for a coworking space in Missoula that’s become popular in larger cities. It’s hard to miss the bustling WeWork shared workspaces in places like Los Angeles and Chicago. Coworking environments allow workers to connect and socialize with others that they may never have met in a traditional corporate environment or if they were to work from home. Wetherbee said the environment leads to more collaboration and enhanced productivity.
“The business is modeled around shared desks, private offices and meeting rooms in an open interactive, social environment,” he explained. “C3 will be a space that allows for innovation and creative collaboration of businesspeople and freelancers. Dedicated desks and office space, along with open seating options, are available in a membership-style business design. It is integral to our Tech Campus opportunity.”
People can pay anywhere from $15 a day for up to 10 punch-card passes to $500 a month for a private office, according to C3's website.
Wetherbee and his team are in the midst of redeveloping the former lumberyard on Wyoming Street near Silver Park into $250 million worth of commercial and residential development, including a new student housing project, a new restaurant called the Sawmill Grille, four upscale condo buildings, a senior living project, a neighborhood inn and perhaps a child-care center.
They’ve got a building permit in place for a 15,000-square-foot facility called the 910 Building that will be the base of what they’re calling the “tech and innovation campus,” designed to attract tenants who need high-speed internet and other tech amenities.
Erinn Donnell, the C3 Worklounge community manager, said they’ve already got dozens of users from all backgrounds needing a place to set up shop and network.
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“We’ve had a lot of interest so far,” she said.
Soon, an financial investment advising office, a physical therapy company and a tech company called Advanced Technology Group will all move into Cambium, along with perhaps another café or restaurant or market to join the Dog and Bicycle Café across the street.
Leslie Wetherbee, a broker for Old Sawmill’s Development team and a real estate agent with Windermere, said the mixed residential and commercial combination of the building means there’s a different sort of vibe. The large lounging spaces foster connections and social gatherings.
“Our residents have told us they feel like it’s really more like a community than just a regular apartment complex,” she said.
She said she and her husband knew there wasn’t anything like it in Montana, so they traveled to places like Boulder, Colorado, to get ideas before they started the project.
“As we’ve been looking at doing projects here, we did a lot of research,” she said. “We went to different places where they’ve repurposed different areas, and this was one of the things that we saw that was just really cool. And we thought, ‘What do we need here that is going to make this a really vibrant and awesome neighborhood and was going to be different than what we see everywhere else?' And so we wanted to have a project that was mixed use.”
Soon, the developers will begin to work on a greenbelt that connects the Milwaukee Trail pedestrian path to Silver Park and start construction on new phases of the entire project, which will eventually be the largest infill development in state history.
One step at a time, Old Sawmill District adds pieces that change the dynamic of the ever-growing neighborhood.
“We’re really excited about that,” Leslie Wetherbee said.