Sawmill District looks to future tech, commercial growth with ATG as anchor

Construction in the Old Sawmill District will continue through the summer as crews work to complete Cambium Place, pictured, which ATG will occupy this winter. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

When Advanced Technology Group packs its bags and heads across the river to the Old Sawmill District later this year, the rapidly growing tech company will serve as the development’s first major business anchor.

It could also draw other tech-based companies to the urban hub, fulfilling a vision held by the developers when they broke ground on the Old Sawmill District several years ago.

“We kind of identified the types of businesses we wanted down there, and we felt it was really a great place for a tech company with everything we have to offer,” said Leslie Wetherbee, one of the project’s developers.

“People are really starting to notice all of a sudden and we’re getting a lot of phone calls,” she added. “We feel ATG will be a major anchor there, and other tech companies are going to take a look at it and realize what we have there and want to be there, too.”

The district, which served as a shuttered sawmill less than a decade ago, has since blossomed into an urban hub. Four condominium buildings will be open and occupied this year, and a student housing project is set for completion next spring.

The development also plans to break ground on its seventh structure this year, though it has plenty of remaining space for future projects. That availability, combined with 1 gig of fiber, made the district an ideal location for ATG as it considers its future.

Tom Stergios, senior vice president of the company’s Missoula operations, said ATG will occupy the top two floors of the new Cambium Building, though other building options within the district will accommodate the firm’s anticipated growth.

“We don’t know how big we’ll be, but we’re measuring it in the multiple hundreds, so we felt a campus approach was the right approach,” Stergios said this week. “Ultimately, Cambium won’t contain us, so we’re looking at building the campus part of it. There’s a couple of locations in proximity that are options for building a building.”

The construction that’s taken place over the past four years in the Old Sawmill District has been contained to the south side of Wyoming Street, though that will change this year.

A new lifestyle center will undergo construction north of the roadway, and when ATG outgrows the top two floors of the Cambium Building, several city lots are still available just across the street.

“We have plenty of room there to build some good-sized buildings to house these companies, and we still want that retail component,” said Wetherbee. “Just north of Cambium, we have two more blocks of commercial space we can put in there. Our plan is to build those over the next several years.”

The developers have also reserved a corner lot near Ogren Park at Allegiance Field for a future parking garage and large business anchor. Wetherbee believes the city will need additional parking for the baseball games and concerts held at the stadium, and the district will need expanded parking for commercial uses.

“We’ve had some good leads on businesses that would work in there, but nothing is firm yet,” she said. “There are companies now looking for that kind of space that can’t find it anywhere else.”

ATG has grown for the past few years at its current downtown location on Main Street. The building it occupies was recently sold to the Zootown Arts Coalition, which plans to move in early next year.

That placed ATG on something of a stiff timeline, and while other developers courted the company at other locations, it ultimately selected the Old Sawmill District as its future home.

But as ATG prepares to vacate its Main Street office, Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Partnership, doesn’t see it as a loss.

“I see the Sawmill District as part of our downtown, not as a separate place or location,” McCarthy said. “Our downtown is growing to the west, and it’s great to see ATG find a permanent home in our downtown arena.”

The downtown district’s growth is extending both to the east and the west, though it’s west of the district at the Riverfront Triangle where the next major development is expected to land. That project will include a hotel and conference center, housing and retail, spread across roughly seven acres.

When the Riverfront Triangle is developed, it will stand across the river from the Old Sawmill District, and at some point in time, the two will be connected by a pedestrian bridge, making it easy to access both sides of the river.

“We’ve kind of been wondering where ATG was going to go,” said McCarthy. “I jumped to the conclusion it would be the Riverfront, but the timeline was awkward since that won’t be ready for a couple years. I don’t feel their move is a leaving of downtown, it’s just to the west.”

Wetherbee said she and ATG have been discussing the Sawmill District as a potential location for nearly a year. She and Stergios are both Loyola High School alumni and the two families have long been acquainted.

While the move will meet ATG’s immediate and long-term needs, it could also give the Sawmill District a boost as it looks to emerge as a tech-center built around a “live, work, play” environment.

“With all the (tech) growth we have in Missoula, it’s right on target for what we’re looking for,” Wetherbee said. “It could speed up the timeline on the commercial area faster than what we anticipated.”