All but one member of the Missoula City Council backed an agreement allowing NorthWestern Energy to lease a portion of Caras Park for the remainder of the year as it builds a new downtown substation.

The city had slated Caras Park for redevelopment, regardless, per the Downtown Master Plan.

The city has approved similar agreements with the Montana Department of Transportation and other contractors as they work to reconstruct the Higgins Avenue bridge.

“NorthWestern required access to both transmission and distribution lines at a close location,” said David Selvage with Missoula parks. “They'd been through at least half-a-dozen if not more options before landing at east Caras.”

Because the parking commission has more than 70 active leases in the east Caras parking lot, it will retain the function of the lot during the project. NorthWestern will provide the city more than $105,000 for park and tree restoration once the new substation is finished.

The utility is investing more than $10 million into the project to increase the station’s capacity to accommodate current and future growth in the downtown and nearby university districts.

City Council member Daniel Carlino was alone in opposing the agreement with NorthWestern. But city staff said they were satisfied with the deal.

“This has been one of the most challenging projects for city staff to work through and find a solution that works,” said Selvage. “NorthWestern exhausted all the private alternatives that we asked for. There's only so many locations this can go at.”

Funding given to the city by the utility and the Montana Department of Transportation – a combined $180,000 – will be directed back into Caras Park for grass and tree restoration once the bridge and substation projects are completed.

The city had plans to redevelop the park regardless as detailed in the North Riverside Parks and Trails Plan, pictured below.