old NorthWestern Energy building

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

There are three new proposals for taking and repurposing parts or all of the vacant NorthWestern Energy complex in Uptown Butte, including one from a media production venture pledging to make it and Butte the “filmmaking hub for the state of Montana.”

Another would turn the county-owned complex at 40 East Broadway St. in Uptown Butte into condos, apartments and commercial space, and one by Fran Doran of Butte would create six new apartments in just one of the five buildings.

Mike Reilly and Tom Werner of Butte, who proposed the mix of residential and commercial space, are offering the county a “good faith bid” of $10,000 for the buildings as part of their proposal.

But Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s Community Development director, said that was unnecessary. The county just wants to see someone develop the property into something beneficial for Butte and its economy, she said.

The county inherited the complex in 2016 as part of a deal to 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 after its own marketing efforts did not find buyers.

The county also has failed to find new owners, in part because of the age, size and setup of the complex. It is actually five buildings joined together and its 1960s-vintage, blue-green façade is ugly to many people.

A committee of county officials, including Byrnes and Chief Executive Dave Palmer, will review the new proposals and likely recommend one to commissioners. The council has final say.

A proposal by Bitterroot Gateway Development LLC of Missoula says the complex would make an ideal headquarters for Montana Studios, a media production company that recently started operations south of Hamilton in Ravalli County.

It says its initial work has included a three-month contract to provide logistical support to Paramount Pictures for Kevin Costner’s new TV series “Yellowstone,” and it produced a short TV pilot for a proposed series called “Healthy Eating.”

“It has always been our intention to find a more central location for the Montana Studios headquarters and 40 East Broadway meets everything we are looking for,” its proposal says. If Butte becomes its headquarters, the Hamilton location would be a satellite campus.

Montana Studios says it could use space at 40 East for production sound stages, interior filming, offices, educational rooms, set locations and housing, including guest rooms and apartments.

The project would take five to seven years and cost up to $10 million, the proposal says. It says its team has an extensive background in combining funding sources, which could include new market and historic tax credits, tax-increment funds and traditional debt financing.

Montana’s “cinematic landscape” creates opportunities for local productions across the state, the plan says, and producers and crews need a location to store equipment, shoot interior shots and finish their work.

“This central location will decrease their costs and time associated with creating world-class features,” the proposal says. “Butte is the right community to host this project and 40 East Broadway is the ideal location.”

Reilly and Werner are longtime Butte residents and both have done remodeling and restoration projects. They say their project would take three years, cost about $2.1 million and they currently have $300,000 in cash and $1 million in approved financing.

Under their plan, the front facades of some buildings would be torn off and restored and electrical, heating and plumbing systems in each building would be re-engineered. The work would be done in three phases.

The first would turn one building into condos with some commercial space possible on the first floor. Many of the west-facing windows that have been bricked over would be re-exposed. Residents in that building would have private, enclosed parking.

The second phase would turn parts of two buildings into about 20 two-bedroom apartments with commercial use of the main floors. The storefront of one building “has excellent potential to be restored to its historic grandeur,” with a front façade typical of the early 1900s, the proposal says.

The third phase would create multi-family units in the remaining two buildings with the main floor used for commercial purposes that could include a call center, dining, lounge, retail and office space, the proposal says.

Overall, the proposal says, “Our goals are the same as Butte’s: to restore historic value and create productive properties for the betterment of the community.”

Doran, who joined partner Neil Egan and local developer Nick Kujawa in turning the once dilapidated Hirbour Tower in Uptown into residences atop of retail shops, would take just one of the vacant NorthWestern Energy buildings.

She says she would gut the building and turn it into six apartments, two per floor, with a staircase added in the center to provide entrance to the upper floors.

The courtyard would be maintained, new windows would be installed to the west and south walls and there would be new heating and air-conditioning systems for each apartment. The basement would be converted into storage units for tenants and possibly others, her proposal says.

“When we developed the Hirbour Tower it cost about $1.4 million just to give you an idea,” she wrote in the plan. “I don’t think this project would be near that amount.”

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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