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.
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