Missoula’s Old Sawmill District buzzing with construction projects

By Keila Szpaller/Missoulian

Don’t whiz down the trail and streets near Missoula’s riverfront baseball stadium because a lot of disruption is taking place there this spring and summer, according to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

But the $5.7 million worth of work taking place south of the Clark Fork River between Orange and Russell streets is for a good cause, MRA director Ellen Buchanan said Thursday. It will bring a new thoroughfare running east and west in the city, and it will open up one more place for people to play and hang out.

“The really exciting thing is we’re finishing Silver Park, which is a 14.5-acre riverfront park,” Buchanan said.

Her words of caution against zipping along on the trails is because the north-south connection at Ogren-Allegiance Park between the Milwaukee Trail and the riverfront trail is temporarily closed at least through the first part of June. In the meantime, Buchanan said people should transition on the west end at California Street or on the east end through the natural park east of Orange Street.

The new road will travel through the Old Sawmill District, 46 acres of an old lumber mill. Ed Wetherbee of the Millsite Revitalization Project said the work on the road has helped turn the corner for the as-yet-to-be-developed district envisioned to be a “village” with a variety of residential and commercial spaces.

“You can see the road cuts now, and it’s really exciting to see that happen,” Wetherbee said. “We’ve been part of that design process, and we’re pretty excited about the trees and lights and just the whole design of the street.”

Here’s an update on the city projects under way this summer, and here also is the latest report on activity at the Old Sawmill District.

The city project is being paid for with tax increment revenue, and it encompasses the following, according to the city:

• Building Wyoming Street from Cregg Lane to California Street to link Russell with Orange. Slated to open in September, the connection will benefit traffic throughout Missoula, Buchanan said: “I think it really benefits these riverfront neighborhoods, and it’s going to benefit the traffic on Third Street, and I think it’s going to help Broadway as well.”

According to the city, “the street will be an urban street with diagonal parking and 16-foot sidewalks in a planned two-block commercial area at the east end, then pass through two blocks of planned residential area.” Buchanan said Higgins Avenue downtown has 16-foot sidewalks in some places, and the new Wyoming will look like a combination of one of the downtown streets with diagonal parking and a residential street with parallel parking and a landscaped boulevard – and street lighting like that on North Higgins Avenue.

“We’re trying to create a really walkable street in a walkable neighborhood,” Buchanan said.

• Replacing the old wooden railroad trestle with a new bridge to allow the street to pass under it. “The city will own the bridge, and Montana Rail Link will retain ownership of the tracks on top of it.” The trestle will be closed the last couple weeks of April, and the replacement will be completed June 1.

• Completing Silver Park. The park already has a riverfront trail with timber frame shelters and a boat ramp, which is expected to be available in June. “Construction throughout the summer will bring a series of internal trails; a large informal play area; a timber frame pavilion with gathering space; public art; and a timber frame picnic shelter.” Buchanan said the park will have large pickup playfields similar to the John Toole Riverfront Park, and she touted the old timber frame shelters. “It’s just an old construction art form, and it really reflects the nature of what that site has been historically, which we’re excited about.” The parking lot of some 173 spaces will be complete by June 1.

Because the work is being done with tax increment money, 2014 will be a tight budget year for Urban Renewal District II, Buchanan said. However, she said the stadium debt is paid off in 2015, which will release $500,000 a year.

At the Old Sawmill District, Wetherbee anticipates breaking ground late this year on a “mixed use project’ of some 70 units. He described it as a “rent by choice” area with “workforce type apartment living” as well as a commercial corner with office and retail space.

“We’re excited about that one. It will really set the architectural tone for the whole place,” Wetherbee said.

Currently, he said, he’s on the lookout for a restaurant businessperson who wants to open an eatery in the area of the district focused on restaurants, food and beverage.

Also in the works at the district is a senior living and learning community that would have a relationship with the University of Montana for lifelong learning, he said. It will include a medical office and physical therapy space, too.

Wetherbee said MRP is “pre-selling” condominiums for a couple of other projects, too. Some 14 to 16 higher-end units in the $450,000 to $600,000 range are planned, and the same estimated number of condos at $200,000 to $250,000 are envisioned.

“We don’t want anything to be overwhelming on the project,” Wetherbee said of the district. “We really like this idea of having a lot of different things and an eclectic, village-type development.”

According to the city, LS Jensen Construction is building Wyoming Street, Frontier West is replacing the railroad trestle, and Quality Construction will complete Silver Park.

Read full Missoulian article HERE