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NorthWestern plans $10M upgrade to downtown substation as Caras Park improvements play out

NorthWestern Energy plans to make $10 million in improvements to its downtown substation, improving both capacity and aesthetics. (Courtesy photo)

With the first round of renovations to Caras Park set to end for the summer season, NorthWestern Energy plans to improve the appearance of its downtown substation.

The company on Friday said it would also increase the station’s capacity to accommodate current and future growth in the downtown and nearby university districts.

The project is estimated at $10 million.

“This project includes improving the aesthetics of the substation, located in a well-used park in our community,” NorthWestern Energy community relations manager Steve Clawson said in a statement.

A number of construction projects in downtown Missoula in recent years have required alterations to the district’s power grid, and a number of new projects are in the works, including the expansion of the Holiday Inn and development in the Riverfront Triangle.

Across the river, developers there also plan to redevelop several properties as envisioned in the Downtown Master Plan. The plan also called for sweeping improvements to Caras Park and the North Riverside Trail system.

Clawson said NorthWestern will join those efforts by making improvements to its substation, which was originally built in the 1920s.

“A new solid masonry wall that complements the exteriors of existing buildings in the area will surround the upgraded substation,” Clawson said. “The overhead distribution lines on Pattee Street will be converted to underground lines, and the transmission line will be realigned to enhance the area’s view shed.”

The city adopted its new Downtown Master Plan in 2019 and followed with an additional plan focused on the North Riverside parks and trail system, which includes Caras Park. Pattee Street was also envisioned as a street for many uses.

Phase 1 improvements to Caras, now underway, include a renovated amphitheater, widening the Clark Fork trail from eight feet to 18 feet, and removing the grass hill. Power upgrades, lighting and a new plaza were also included.

Future phases include an ice ribbon and other amenities.