A real estate developer that wanted to market the vacant NorthWestern Energy office building in Uptown Butte wants county officials to table their plan given a new proposal that just surfaced this week.
Commissioners were to consider the original proposal by Wishrock Housing Partners LLC on Wednesday night, but the firm has backed out — at least for now — because of a late, verbal pitch for the building complex at 40 E. Broadway St. by Eric Fulton, who runs an internet services business in Helena.
Wishrock had said it would market the building for a year and seek tenants while splitting utility and maintenance costs with the county. If it got enough commitments to lease or buy space, it could buy the building from the county for $1.
Fulton had not submitted a written plan as of Monday but said he could commit $500,000 to immediate renovations if he got the building and pay for all utility costs while seeking tenants.
“In light of the new proposal for the North West Energy Building, as summarized in the Montana Standard on February 5th, Wishrock feels the City of Butte should not vote to authorize their development proposal on Wednesday night,” Justin Metcalf, director of acquisitions for Wishrock, said in a statement.
He said the proposal process should be reopened so Fulton and others could present alternative plans. It now appears that might happen.
“Wishrock considers the North West Energy Building a very challenging project that will require a significant amount of time, expertise, collaboration, and capital to complete,” Metcalf's statement said. “Without full support from the various stakeholders this won’t be possible, thus Wishrock would prefer their offer be tabled for consideration until such time there is unanimous support.
“Wishrock has ties to Butte and supports any project that benefits the community and will gladly step aside if an alternative offer is considered to be a better option for the redevelopment.”
Wishrock, a national real estate developer with offices in Missoula, Portland, Maine, and three other cities, focuses primarily on creating and preserving affordable housing. But it also has experience in renovating and re-positioning historic buildings.
County officials, following a months-long process of seeking and evaluating proposals for the 110,000-square-foot complex, wanted commissioners to sign off on the Wishrock plan when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Courthouse, 155 W. Granite St.
Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s director of community development, said Tuesday that she understood Wishrock’s new position and is likely to recommend that a renewed process to seek more proposals begin.
The county took ownership of the building in 2016 as part of an agreement to keep NorthWestern Energy’s Montana headquarters in Butte. But the county has been unable to sell it, in part because of its age, size and mish-mashed set-up. It is actually five buildings joined together over the years.
In the meantime, the county has been saddled with utility and maintenance costs for the empty building. Those expenses were nearly $70,000 last year, with utility costs alone topping $45,000.
Byrnes said proposals were publicly sought for months and the deadline to submit them was Dec. 8. For several weeks since then, county officials have been negotiating terms of the proposed pact with Wishrock and she had no written proposal from Fulton, she said Monday.
Fulton, co-founder of a Helena-based company called Treasure State Internet that provides Internet services, acknowledged Monday that he was late coming forward. He said he was in China on business from October through December and wasn’t aware a proposal process was in play.
He wanted the council to hold off on approving the Wishrock plan Wednesday night so he could present his own proposal on Feb. 14, a move supported by Commissioner Bill Andersen.