Kalispell-based construction firm LHC was awarded the contract to build the industrial rail park off Whitefish Stage Road.
The Kalispell City Council on June 19 unanimously agreed to pay the local contractor $11.22 million to construct the new Glacier Rail Park, a 43-acre property that is pivotal to the city’s core area redevelopment project.
Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell said the rail park could break ground as early as July.
“We’re very excited,” Jeff Claridge, a Kalispell native and vice president of LHC, told the Beacon. “It’s local. And it’s another big change for the community, taking the rail out of downtown and putting it in the rail park. We’re excited to be a part of that.”
LHC, which was instrumental in building the Kalispell bypass, was among six contractors issuing a bid for the project. The firm proposed the lowest amount to tackle the large project, and the company’s bid was roughly $356,000 below the estimated cost to build the site.
Monday’s vote marked the latest progress for a community vision years in the making. It was five years ago when city planners unveiled an ambitious revitalization plan for the core area of Kalispell. The plan envisioned transforming the heart of Kalispell into a redeveloped mixed-use center, primarily by removing the remnants of the city’s railroad. Flathead County Economic Development Authority acquired the former Knife River property off Whitefish Stage Road in 2012 and partnered with the city in developing plans for an industrial yard that could accommodate rail-served businesses.
The plan received a big boost in 2015 when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the city a $10 million federal grant to fuel development of the rail park and replace the downtown tracks with a sprawling trail system.
An environmental assessment for the rail park was recently completed. City officials estimate that $7 million of the federal grant will go to rail park development and $3 million will go toward the trail system. The remaining funds needed for the rail park will come from bonding through the west side tax-increment finance district, which has roughly $4.5 million in accumulated funds, according to Russell.
“We should be able to cover all the costs,” he said at Monday’s council meeting.
The new industrial yard could be completed by mid to late 2018. At that point, CHS and Northwest Drywall, the two downtown businesses that use the current tracks, will be moved into new facilities at the rail yard. Once the two businesses are relocated, the city will remove the downtown railroad tracks in 2019 and develop the path system.
BNSF Railway has filed a motion with the Surface Transportation Board seeking federal approval for the abandonment of 2.41 miles of track that slice through the heart of town.
The city also plans to reconnect disjointed streets in the core area once the tracks are removed.
City and business leaders hope these changes and others will spur private redevelopment and expansion in Kalispell’s core area. By removing the rail tracks, roughly 40 acres of adjacent land would become primed for redevelopment, according to Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz.