A NEW WAY OF LIVING COMES TO OUR COMMUNITY
More than a decade ago, in the heart of downtown, stood the remnants of a ghost. Today, the long-known “mill site,” which had been left vacant since the early 1990s and been an eyesore for Missoulians, is the Old Sawmill District, a community within a community comprised of all kinds of residences, businesses, and amenities—exactly like what you’d find in neighborhoods across the world—as well as a 14-acre park open to Old Sawmill District residents and Missoulians alike. It’s all about “Live. Work. Play.,” the district’s motto.
The site was not merely a vacant lot. The popular Riverfront Trail and the Clark Fork River were surrounded by a Superfund site, and those taking advantage of the city’s favorite trail system were treated to views of metal fencing and mounds of scrap.
Its future was about to change.
In the early 2000s, Ed Wetherbee, who had been running a venture capital firm in Boulder and would later become an Economic Development consultant to the Montana Department of Commerce, was spending significant time in the Garden City on business. He also was courting his now-wife Leslie, a second-generation Missoulian. Ed wasn’t specifically looking for a real estate project, but a friend planted the seed that has now grown into the Old Sawmill District.
“[Former] Mayor Mike Kadas told Ed in so many words, ‘If you really want a project, we have this problem in the center of town,’” Leslie said.
Around the same time, Leslie introduced Ed to Kevin Mytty, owner of Quality Construction and other local businesses, who was also unofficially looking to do “something.”
He and Ed became fast friends and then business partners. They agreed to clean up and develop the land and were “the ones who took it through the entire process,” she said, which was no small feat.
The task of revitalizing this “problem” from Superfund site to super development didn’t move super-fast, though. It required a monumental amount of effort, and the clean-up added significant time with the involvement of the DEQ and EPA.
“Every time they did another step everybody had to review it again. Each step took about six months,” Leslie said, recalling the hurdles they faced. “The actual clean-up didn’t take long. It was figuring out what was there and what needed to happen.”
Nearly everything onsite was recycled or reused. In the end, more than 50,000 cubic yards of wood waste were hauled to Eko Compost and distributed in other city parks and the discarded metal siding is now seen on the roofs of the pavilions in Silver Park. As the site’s buildings were taken apart, many people bought the individual beams. Those beams now sit in homes all over town as commemoration of Missoula’s past.
Toward the end of the clean-up, around 2010, Ed and Leslie decided to take on the vertical development themselves to preserve their vision for the site. They collaborated with the city, their neighbors, and their friends and family on what would be best for and most wanted in the community. A plot of land on the west side of the property was sold to Homeword to build affordable housing. The land for Silver Park was donated to the city, thus ensuring that no house would be built along the river.
In June 2015, Ed and Leslie finally broke ground on the first project in the Old Sawmill District, Polleys Square, four condominium buildings and the first buyers moved in a little more than a year later. Now, only a handful of units remain on the market. Once inside, it is easy to see why.
The Old Sawmill District, once completed, will consist of a community for seniors (age 55+) affiliated with UM Extended & Lifelong Learning; UGlobal, student housing catering to upper-class students; residential lots for townhomes, apartment-style residences, and attached and cottage-style homes; mixed-use commercial space featuring, among other things, a neighborhood market, private offices, shops, and restaurants including the Dog and Bicycle Bakery Café and a gastropub with 40 beers on tap; and Cambium Place.
Leslie’s eyes especially shone when she spoke of Cambium Place, a community in itself that will consist of about 65 high-end rental units. Residents will be free from the burdens of homeownership but can still find the sense of community often lacking in apartment living. Features will include housekeeping, laundry service, and a clubhouse-style large-format dining space, among much more.
During the design process, it remained paramount to the Wetherbees that the Old Sawmill District be a neighborhood, not merely a cluster of buildings. And it seems that they did so.
“This is a new lifestyle for Missoula that people haven’t experienced but that people are looking for. I hear that a lot,” Leslie said. “It’s getting back to having neighbors, and it’s growing into a wonderful community.”
Old Sawmill District
Development Sales Office
875 Wyoming St., Suite 101
Contact: Leslie Wetherbee