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Old Sawmill District tech campus

An architect's rendering of the Old Sawmill District in central Missoula.

With plans in place for both a pizza tavern and a new commercial campus to attract tech companies, the developers of the Old Sawmill District in central Missoula are continuing the transformation of the blighted former industrial yard into a business and residential hub.

Ed Wetherbee, the project developer at the Old Sawmill District, said they are planning for a Tech and Innovation Campus with high-speed data internet connections, which he envisions will be an “innovation and professional office space for Missoula’s burgeoning tech community.”

The developers are also hoping to start construction this fall on the Sawmill Grille, which Wetherbee calls a “1.5-story building” with high ceilings.

“It will have a neighborhood tavern feel to part of it, and another part will be a very Italian feel for focusing on pizza,” he said. “We do have a beer and wine license with a long-term possibility of upgrading to a full liquor license. We expect a lot of traffic from baseball games and summer activities, but we feel it will be a year-round amenity for not only the neighborhood but also attractive for Missoula as a whole.”

Wetherbee said they hope for the eatery to open in the summer of 2019; they're starting a mobile food truck of the same name.

Recently, Wetherbee’s team opened the C3 Worklounge coworking space inside the new, 120,000-square-foot Cambium Place building, which also includes a gym called Brio Fitness, a chef’s kitchen, upscale residential apartments and furnished corporate stay apartments.

Wetherbee said they’ve recently acquired a building permit for a 15,000-square-foot building called the 910 Building that will be located to the north of Cambium Place, across Wyoming Street. However, developers aren’t going to start construction until they’ve had talks with interested parties.

“There are different possibilities,” he said. “We could sell the land with someone with a plan and allow them to build their own building or we could work together on some kind of long-term lease arrangement, and we would go out and finance and build the building for them to move into. We won’t build on it yet. Things can change, but we want to be able to refine things to better fit whatever the client is to give them every opportunity.”

The area north of Cambium provides an “opportunity to construct several buildings incrementally, or simultaneously, for a nominal 160,000-200,000 square feet of commercial space with underground parking,” according to Wetherbee. He and his team envision a campus that supports over 1,000 employees, retail, food and beverage and outdoor common areas “in the spirit of campus environments” like you would find in Silicon Valley or other tech-heavy areas.

“It reaffirms our focus on recruitment and retention for our commercial partners,” he said. “C3 is committed to great work space options, enabling startups, entrepreneurs and businesses to collaborate, share experiences and get inspiration from other members in the community. From private offices to dedicated desks, an open-seating lounge area and conference rooms, business-class printing services and private call booths, cookies and a keg, we have all you need.”

Recently, a high-tech company called ATG (recently purchased by Cognizant) announced it will move from its downtown Missoula headquarters into new digs at the Old Sawmill District this winter. Wetherbee said he hopes that is the catalyst that attracts more tech companies to the new development.

“The commercial landscape in Missoula is evolving and maturing, and what has worked historically might need to get complemented with some new and bigger product so companies can co-locate and have more or all of their employees in one place,” he said. “Also what we think of and describe as our recruitment and retention plan really is meant to create an awesome environment to help commercial partners get great people.”

A housing project called The Sawyer Student Living will open in the summer of 2019 as well, and Wetherbee said that could be a source of interns for companies at the Tech and Innovation Campus. There are also long-term plans for a neighborhood market, a child-care center and a neighborhood hotel. Four condominium buildings and the Dog & Bicycle Café have been built in the district over the last few years.

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