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old NorthWestern Energy building

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

County officials are recommending that a media production venture with new operations near Hamilton get ownership of the long-vacant NorthWestern Energy complex in Uptown Butte.

Bitterroot Gateway Development LLC of Missoula says the county-owned property would make an ideal headquarters for Montana Studios, a media production company that wants all five buildings in the complex at 40 E. Broadway St.

It says it would use the space for production sound stages, interior filming, offices, educational rooms, set locations and housing, and a committee of Butte officials is recommending it over two other proposals that would use only portions of the complex.

Commissioner John Sorich, who is on the committee, said Monday that a proposal by Fran Doran of Butte was incomplete and one by longtime Butte residents Mike Reilly and Tom Werner was different than earlier proposed.

Their initial plan included new uses for all five buildings, including condos, apartments and commercial spaces. But when they pitched their plan before the committee last week, Sorich said, it had been scaled back significantly.

“They wanted to break the building apart and take just one building,” he said.

There were several things the committee liked about the Bitterroot Gateway proposal. Among other things, Sorich said, “They want the whole building and they’re excited to be here.”

Doran wanted to take just one of the buildings and turn it into six apartments.

Commissioners will get the final say but Bitterroot Gateway representatives plan to appear before the full council at 7:30 p.m. on July 24 to give a formal presentation on their plans for acquiring and developing the complex. The meeting is at the courthouse.

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.

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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.

The committee reviewing the latest proposals included Sorich, Chief Executive Dave Palmer, Community Development Director Karen Byrnes, Budget Director Danette Gleason, County Attorney Eileen Joyce and Stephen Coe, a member of the board that oversees Butte’s Urban Revitalization Agency.

Montana Studios recently started operations near Hamilton in Ravalli County. It says initial work has included logistical support 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.

One building is ideal for a “media campus,” it says, and the basement and portions of the second and third floors could be removed to make way for a three-story sound stage.

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.

Sorich said the proposal could result in new jobs and has other promise.

“They are going to do some due diligence to make sure they can get funding, but they have engineers and a local contractor already lined up and they have an architect,” he said. “They got all of this done ahead of time.”

Sorich said among other things, they like Butte because it is halfway between filming resources at Montana State University in Bozeman and the University of Montana in Missoula, and the property values were conducive to the project.

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