NorthWestern proposes new headquarters for Butte

2013-04-23T06:00:00Z 2013-04-24T00:09:08Z NorthWestern proposes new headquarters for ButteBy PIPER HAUGAN Montana Standard The Billings Gazette
April 23, 2013 6:00 am  • 

BUTTE — NorthWestern Energy’s officials announced Monday that they hope to have a new general office building in Uptown Butte by the end of 2015.

Bob Rowe, president and CEO, said at a press conference that the company has tentative plans to build a 110,000-square-foot, five-story building currently projected to cost $23 million at the Heritage Plaza parking lot, Park and Main.

As part of the plan, the company is proposing a deal with the county: It would give the county the 40 E. Broadway St. building in exchange for the Heritage Plaza parking lot. The county would take the building and sell it to developers or hold onto it for its own use. The partnership will allow for the county to work on establishing a parking garage near the new building; the utility would lease 150 spots in the garage. The utility employs 200 employees in its Uptown office.

Commission Chair Cindi Shaw said at the meeting that she thinks the potential change in her district is a “marvelous idea.”

The new building idea remains in its early stages.

Rowe emphasized that the company has “a number of milestones it has to reach” before ground is broken, including securing federal tax credits worth up to $5 million.

NorthWestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe said it is too soon to say what would happen to the plans if the company didn’t secure the tax credits, but the company would like to remain at its historical home Uptown.

Larcombe said the five buildings that make up the general office at 40 E. Broadway St. have made it difficult to move into the future. The company does business much differently than it did 100 years ago, Larcombe said.

NorthWestern Energy owns about 200 buildings, and the general office is the oldest. It is the second-largest in square footage and serves the largest number of employees, Rowe said.

Rowe said the company’s board of directors approved the development of the project at its quarterly meeting earlier this year, but the press conference and employee meeting Monday morning are the first time the company brought the plans to the public.

He said the company thinking is it’s important to maintain a presence in Uptown Butte.

“We’ve been here for 80 years,” Rowe said. “We want to be here for the next century as well.”

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent said NorthWestern Energy would market the 40 E. Broadway St. building first, and the county will help with the marketing plans if needed.

But he said the project is in its infancy, and it’s impossible to say whether the county will take ownership of the building.

“I think at this point it’s too early to even say that we would be absorbing another old facility,” Vincent said, adding, “We’re committed to working through this and doing whatever we have to do to make this new project happen.”

The county’s Historic Preservation Officer Jim Jarvis said if the buildings do end up in the county’s hands, it may not be for long because they could be sold to developers.

Vincent said options abound for the planned parking structure uptown, but he would be reluctant to support any plan for parking on the site of the 40 E. Broadway St. facility.

“They’re the most structurally sound, functional buildings in Uptown Butte,” Vincent said. “Every square foot of them is occupied and up to code.”

Vincent said that he hopes the new building would spur growth uptown the way other recent developments have.

Before anything is finalized, the yet-to-be-completed plans have to go through the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners and back to NorthWestern Energy’s board of directors for final approval at its July meeting.

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