Kalispell North Town Center, a 485.5-acre proposed subdivision once known as Glacier Town Center and the largest single commercial project in the history of Flathead County, is finally materializing after a decade of dormancy.
Jeff Claridge and his father, Roger, are moving forward with the first phase of the expansive commercial and residential development, an 81.4-acre section, broken into 11 commercial lots and one multi-family residential lot for an apartment complex. The entire subdivision is bounded by West Reserve Drive to the south, U.S. Highway 93 to the west and Whitefish Stage Road to the east.
The Claridges, a family with deep roots in the Flathead Valley, own LHC and are spearheading the subdivision as Stillwater Corporation. They own the open farmland that was annexed into the city in 2008 after another developer pitched different — and heavily disputed — plans for a large shopping mall along with other commercial and residential construction.
Now, as development has already sprawled across north Kalispell and other major subdivisions have cropped up, the Claridges are seeking preliminary plat approval from the city council, which is expected to review the request at its Feb. 6 meeting.
“We’re hoping to have everybody breaking ground in mid to late spring,” Jeff Claridge said.
Claridge declined to provide details of any potential commercial development in the subdivision because discussions with prospective entities are ongoing and no agreements are finalized.
As part of the development, the Claridges are building out Rose Crossing from Whitefish Stage west to U.S. 93. Crews are already conducting preliminary site work, and Claridge said construction on the road could begin in the coming weeks, depending on weather. Once the road is completed, the Claridges will deed it to the city, making it a public street.
“Punching in Rose Crossing will be a major benefit and alleviate traffic congestion on West Reserve Drive,” Claridge said.
Other road construction is planned throughout the subdivision, including building a street north from West Reserve and connecting to the newly extended Rose Crossing.
The subdivision request is the first of nine potential phases of development within the Kalispell North Town Center. Of the first phase’s 81 acres, 56.9 would encompass commercial and residential development and 24.5 would be city right-of-way and open space, according to the plat application. A 100-foot-wide landscaped buffer would be built along U.S. 93 North and a 2.1-acre buffer would be constructed between the subdivision and adjacent National Guard Armory.
The Kalispell Planning Board is recommending approval of the plat application.
The newly named town center is emerging 10 years after a tumultuous rise and fall that involved the project’s original developer, James “Bucky” Wolford, and foreshadowed the economic expansion on the north side of Kalispell. In the late 1990s, Wolford, a successful commercial developer from Tennessee, arrived in the Flathead Valley and envisioned building a 750,000-square-foot shopping mall, first in Evergreen and then on the empty outskirts of north Kalispell. The proposal drew significant public attention, and a request before the county commissioners drew 2,507 comments opposed to the $150 million project and 1,861 in support. Following county approval in 2003, two groups opposed to the project organized and unsuccessfully sued to stop the development.
In the ensuing years, as other economic expansion efforts, such as Hutton Ranch, began surfacing on the north side of town, Wolford redesigned his ambitious project from an enclosed shopping mall into a “lifestyle center” with space for more than 630 homes and 1.8 million square feet of commercial development.
On Jan. 23, 2008, after years of public debate and five hours of deliberation, the Kalispell City Council agreed to annex Wolford’s subdivision, the largest in the county’s history.
The annexation was the final regulatory hurdle hampering Glacier Town Center and cleared the way for groundbreaking. And then a few months later, the economic recession hit. Glacier Town Center completely hit the brakes, stalled by economic upheaval, and in 2012 the property reverted back to its original owners, the Claridges.