Real estate developer to take on old NorthWestern Energy building

The old NorthWestern Energy building is pictured at 40 E. Broadway St.

Commissioners have tapped a real-estate development firm to repurpose the old, empty NorthWestern Energy complex in Uptown Butte and try to breathe new life into it.

Without comment or debate, the council voted 10-0 Wednesday night in choosing Wishrock Housing Partners LLC over two other applicants who wanted to take on the hodge-podge of connected buildings at 40 E. Broadway St.

A committee of county officials that included Chief Executive Dave Palmer, Community Development Director Karen Byrnes and Commissioner John Sorich had reviewed the three proposals and recommended the council choose Wishrock, in large part because of its developer experience.

Wishrock, which has offices in Missoula and Portland, Maine, says it will split utility and security costs for the building with Butte-Silver Bow for a year while trying to find commercial and residential tenants.

It says it already has a brewery and restaurant interested in becoming anchor tenants and its plans included an overhaul of the building’s 1960s, bluish-greenish façade that many people find ugly.

Eric Fulton, who co-founded an internet services business in Helena, said he would assume all carrying costs immediately and market the building initially to commercial interests with other possible uses considered down the line.

Cameron Moylan, who has worked to rehab some houses in Butte, said he would pay $12,920 up front — the same amount the county paid a Billings firm to market the complex last year — and seek commercial and residential tenants.

The county inherited the building in 2016 as part of a deal that helped keep NorthWestern Energy’s Montana headquarters in Butte. The power company built a new $25-million office building at Park and Main and abandoned the old building.

But the county has been unable to sell it, in part because of its age, size, and hodge-podge setup. It is actually five buildings joined together over the years.

Wishrock says it has preserved and renovated 9,000 affordable housing units in 23 states and done $200 million worth of development in the past three years alone.

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