Collaborate and connect: Metro-style co-working lounge set to open in Missoula

Linnea Stanhope of the Old Sawmill District shows off renderings of the C3 WorkLounge set to open in the new Cambium Building this summer. Stanhope discussed the product’s vision during a Hellgate Venture Network meeting at Stockman Bank on Thursday night. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

With craft beer on tap and the ideas flowing, developers of an upscale office lounge in the Old Sawmill District picked the right place to publicly unveil their product, the first of its kind in Missoula.

As local entrepreneurs, the self-employed and other business leaders gathered for the Hellgate Venture Network’s monthly social, Linnea Stanhope of the Old Sawmill District said they were the office lounge’s ideal clients.

“Co-working in the urban markets is really big, almost to the point where it’s saturated,” Stanhope said. “But in these tertiary markets like Missoula, it’s just getting started, and we’re really thinking the time is right here.”

Their assessment may be on target, as Missoula has emerged on the national landscape as a burgeoning tech hub and entrepreneurial hotbed.

Supported by mentoring groups like 1 Million Cups and Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana, among many others, the city’s startup growth has landed it atop national per-capital rankings, helping the state take the Kauffmann Foundation’s top honor for entrepreneurial activity in each of the past four years.

While the city’s new entrepreneurs look to elevate their ideas, many also need a place to conduct business. From book editors to marketing consultants, a come-and-go office without the burden of a traditional lease has proved popular.

Linnea Stanhope answers questions from local entrepreneurs, business leaders and the self-employed. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“Our space is really for this fledgling startup community in Missoula,” Stanhope said. “Today, a lot of people would probably be in cafes, the library or some other place. So basically, this pulls them out of those areas into one beautifully designed, curated space that has a lot of business and support services.”

Dubbed the C3 WorkLounge for connect, create and collaborate, the product provides a range of services, from mobile access and charging stations to a kitchen, phone booths and conference rooms with smartboard technology and whiteboards.

Stanhope first described the lounge back in June during a celebration of entrepreneurs at the Old Sawmill District, and on the top floor of Stockman Bank before the Hellgate Venture Network, that vision didn’t change, though it was the developers’ first push to make their vision public.

The product closely resembles a concept created by WeWork, a national company that leases office buildings and divides them into smaller parcels where those looking to conduct business can set up shop for a monthly membership.

Co-working offices have become common in larger cities and are especially popular among Millennials. It’s that group of idea makers that Forbes described as resistant to corporate mentalities and the 9 to 5 routine – a demographic that’s looking to redefine social norms through businesses interactions.

“As human beings, we’re very social creatures,” Stanhope said. “When we come together on a personal and professional level, we can operate at a higher level. This space is really meant for people to come together and collaborate and partner.”

The C3 WorkLounge will open this August in Cambium Place, the latest building to rise in the Old Sawmill District. The structure will include a fitness center and neighborhood market, along with what Stanhope has described as high-end, rent-by-choice apartments.

Tucked on the ground floor, the C3 WorkLounge will include 3,000 square feet of shared office space. That’s likely to include enough desks, couches and chairs to seat up to 50 people, along with a dozen dedicated desks and offices.

While the numbers could change based on demand, Stanhope said the lounge has room to expand if needed. Memberships are offered at different levels, each providing a range of uses and services.

The Cambium Building in the Old Sawmill District is slated to open this summer.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in private offices, and we have the ability to scale on the floor above,” said Stanhope. “That would look more like a traditional WeWork space, where the community space is on the bottom floor where your clients would come and go, and your office space is upstairs.”

The Old Sawmill District, once a lumber mill situated within a stone’s throw of downtown Missoula, has evolved over the past three years into something of a town square. A cluster of high-end condominiums have already been built, and Cambium is slated for completion this year.

Nearby, a student housing project is under construction while a pub and other projects are on tap for later this year, including a product Stanhope has billed as Warehouse Flats – an apartment unit designed for Millennials.

Once fully developed, the district is expected to offer 700 residential units and 150,000 square feet of commercial space, divvied up among retail, dining and Class A offices.

“We’re also owning and operating a lot of key assets in the neighborhood, and the co-working space is one of them,” Stanhope said. “We feel it’s a great attribute to the community. There’s going to be a lot of people living in the district, as well as working in the district.”