By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Activity in the Old Sawmill District will gain momentum in the coming months as several new projects break ground and residents who reserved ownership of the district’s first condominiums prepare to move in.

Progress on the reclaimed industrial site punctuates what’s been a resurgence of construction activity across Missoula over the last two years. The value of projects permitted by the city’s Development Services hit the $527 million mark this month, the agency’s director reported Tuesday.

“I was looking at the numbers a few days ago, and if you add up the market value since Development Services was created 42 months ago, we’ll be up over half-a-billion dollars for the first time,” Director Mike Haynes said. “That’s a bit of a milestone.”

While the activity has been scattered across Missoula, nearly $50 million in building projects alone are either under way or planned for the coming months in the Old Sawmill District. The first condominium building, dubbed Polleys Square A, is expected to open to residents later this month, followed by the second unit in December.

“We’ve got the first and second-floor buyers of the first building closing on July 27,” said Leslie Wetherbee with Windermere Real Estate and a co-developer in the project. “Our commercial space will be occupied by the Dog & Bicycle Cafe & Bakery. This will be their first sit-down cafe and we’re really excited about having them there.”

The phasing plan for the Old Sawmill District includes four condominium buildings. As the first two buildings near completion, groundbreaking on the third unit is scheduled for October while the fourth and final unit is planned for February. The final two units are scheduled to open in 2018.

 Ed Wetherbee, one of the project’s developers, said construction will also begin this summer on a four-story luxury apartment complex. The project, dubbed Cambium Place, is valued at roughly $25 million and will stand just west of the Polleys Square condominium cluster south of Wyoming Street.

“It’s a mixed use project with all underground parking, luxury rental apartments and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space,” said Ed Wetherbee. “In that commercial space we’re planning for a corner neighborhood market and a neighborhood fitness center.”

While the demand for high-end apartments exists in Missoula, Ed Wetherbee said, the market is short on supply. The concept exists in other parts of the country but is still new to Missoula.

“They’re of a quality people would associate with buying a condominium,” said Ed Wetherbee. “There’s a market for them, but they’re not available. They’re for people who have the ability to own, but for flexibility reasons, they’ve chosen to rent over placing a cash investment into something.”

Current and future activity in the Old Sawmill District will play out in phases over the coming months and years at the hands of various developers. A student housing project is planned for the district and will likely see activity begin this summer.

Ed Wetherbee said the district will eventually include an active-living center reserved for those 55 and older, along with additional retail, office and living options open to all residents. A parking garage is being discussed adjacent to Ogren Park Allegiance Field.

Lolo Peak Brewery had planned to land in the district as well but has since pulled out. The developers said negotiations are taking place with restaurateurs and breweries.

“When all of the Old Sawmill District is built out over the next five years, it will be very near $250 million,” said Ed Wetherbee. “That will be done by different developers over time. The (condominium) block will be in the $25 million range and Cambium is about the same.”

Through June of this year, the city has issued 742 building permits carrying a construction value $108.2 – up from $73.5 million just last month. Throughout 2015, the city issued 1,466 building permits valued at $184 million – a new record.

“Missoula is simply growing as a regional center, and it’s getting to a size where a lot of national chains want to be in the Missoula market,” Haynes said. “It speaks to a growing, vibrant economy, and it appears that’s going to continue.”

Of the permits issued this year, Haynes said 189 have been dwelling units, including 112 single-family homes, 3 duplexes and 71 multi-family units. More multi-family units are expected to be permitted over the coming months.

Several other large construction projects also wait in the wings, including the renovation and expansion of Southgate Mall, a student housing project on Front Street in downtown Missoula and redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle.

Developers behind the later project have placed its early value at roughly $150 million. Other projects in the city’s downtown core have also been proposed but have yet to come to fruition. They include a condominium project and several hotel concepts.

“We’re hearing a lot of interest in doing development where there is developable parcels,” Haynes said. “That inventory is limited downtown, but where there’s property that is developable, we’re seeing interest.”

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