Getting the Sawmill site

City planners and investors hope that a sale planned for next month of Missoula's 45-acre Sawmill site will catalyze a long-snarled urban renewal project that's been more than eight years in the making.

"We're all very encouraged by the progress," says developer Ed Wetherbee from the privately-owned Millsite Revitalization Project.

In 2005, MRP signed a buy-sell agreement with the F. Morris and Helen Silver Foundation, which currently owns the land. Since then, the developer has aimed to transform a portion of the blighted property into residential housing, office and retail space. A prerequisite for development was ridding the property of contamination that lingered from former Champion International Sawmill operations.

The sale is slated to close by Sept. 17. Once that happens, the city is positioned to officially acquire a 14.5-acre hunk of the site to use as park land.

The city's already invested $1.5 million to spruce up Silver Park, as it's now called. Existing improvements include a lighted riverfront trail, a boat ramp and a parking lot that serves the park and Ogren Park at Allegiance Field.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency Director Ellen Buchanan says, however, "There's still quite a bit left to do."

Silver Park is valued at $662,500. Instead of receiving cash for the land, MRP agreed to dedicate a public right of way across the property. That will enable the city to lengthen Wyoming Street from North California Street to Cregg Lane, creating a new east-west connector route and alleviating congestion around the stadium.

"It will start to disperse some of that traffic," Buchanan says.

Council this week is reviewing a pending proposal that would authorize the sale of bonds through Urban Renewal District II, which encompasses the Sawmill Site, to help pay for park improvements and the expense associated with extending Wyoming Street. Revenue generated after the commercial property is developed will go back into the urban renewal district. The proposal will go before the full council during a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 10.

Buchanan says if the project passes public and council muster, the city should get rolling on additional park improvements and the Wyoming Street extension by the middle of next year. "Our goal would be to have that construction underway in the spring, summer."

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