Sawmill District unveils plans for tech and innovation campus; room for 1,000 workers

Ed Wetherbee of the Old Sawmill District shows off Cambium Place at an open house held last year. The district unveiled its plans for a tech and innovation campus this week, which could see construction start in the coming months. (Missoula Current file photo)

With Missoula’s tech scene heating up, the Old Sawmill District and its team of developers unveiled their plans for a tech and innovation campus, one large enough to support more than 1,000 workers when fully built.

Project developer Ed Wetherbee said the campus will include 1G data and underground parking, and serve as a showpiece for one of Missoula’s fastest growing industries.

“There’s a great need for companies to co-locate, and for companies to feel like they’re in a great work environment that not only is great for efficiency and effectiveness, but is also great to recruit and retain employees,” Wetherbee said on Wednesday.

The first structure for the campus is permitted and ready for construction, which will occur with the acquisition of a tenant. When fully built, Wetherbee said, the campus will offer up to 200,000 square feet of commercial space.

It will also serve as a showpiece for Missoula’s burgeoning tech industry, and could play a role in recruiting top talent to the city.

“While we all hope companies here will grow and employ more Montana-based people, we also know they need to recruit some talent from other places,” Wetherbee said. “When these people are coming from the East or West coasts, or a tech-heavy environment, we’re hoping to create a place that has the amenities and all the expectations they bring with them.”

A vacant field three years ago, the Old Sawmill District has seen development activity pick up, with more than 300,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space already built. That includes high-end condos, student housing, and short- and long-term apartments offering premium amenities.

Recently, the C3 WorkLounge opened in Cambium place, as did Brio Fitness. In January, ATG will occupy the building’s third and fourth floor.

The firm was recently acquired by Cognizant and could add hundreds of new employees to its Missoula payroll in the coming years, making it a potential candidate for the Old Sawmill District’s tech campus.

“We’ve designed it – and our architects have worked closely with us – to create an environment where it could be developed and built out on a building-by-building, incremental basis, or it could be built out as one large complex simultaneously to accommodate a big corporate tenant,” Wetherbee said. “We’ve created flexibility there so when someone decides what they want, we can tailor it to their needs. We can adjust as we go.”

An artist’s rendering of the tech and innovation campus planned for the Old Sawmill District near downtown Missoula. (Courtesy photo)

Other projects in the district continue to move forward, including construction of a new student housing complex set to open next summer. The district’s newest restaurant, the Sawmill Grille, is set to break ground next month and open next year.

“We’re also finishing up design and working with the city on a few modifications so we can start our next residential phase of townhomes,” said Wetherbee. “We’re in discussion with potential partners to kick off our 55+ active adult product.”

Both of those projects will take place west of the tech campus within the Old Sawmill District.

Prior to his work as a developer, Wetherbee led two Colorado companies and worked in the world of early stage venture capital, including companies in Colorado and Missoula’s own Nutritional Laboratories.

“Missoula needs space like this (tech campus) to encourage the larger companies to look at Missoula as a real opportunity for a corporate campus,” said Wetherbee. “That’s what we hope to be able to provide. Whether it’s a number of companies that together make up the campus, or one company, it’s all good for Missoula.”