Block 46 a Gutsy Move

By Beacon Staff

Planning: a mantra we hear often in the Flathead Valley. If we could only plan better then the growth could somehow be more palatable. I have watched with interest the comments about Block 46 in Whitefish. Finally, an opportunity to plan an entire city block. A block that is an “entrance” to town, one that had substandard housing as part of its mix and leaking oil tanks. Block 46 is planned, designed, financed and is getting push back because one of the developers is only a part-time resident and is a “rich person” who bought a whole city block.

It takes resources to buy a whole city block. Buying a whole block is also a very risky and gutsy move. There is much less risk in doing one building at a time, seeing how it goes and maybe doing another building. “Good planning” can be very risky and have significant upfront costs involved. In this case, lots of dollars are going to flow out before revenue starts coming back.

Many small towns in Montana would give anything to see this kind of quality redevelopment going on in their downtowns. Strong downtowns are anchors for community vitality.

Maybe “planning” is just the smoke screen for no more change. Block 46 has somehow struck a nerve against the “rich.” I wonder how many people boycott the WAVE or the Library or North Valley Hospital or the O’Shaughnessy Center or the new Central School Auditorium because “rich” people invested in community venues? Or how many Whitefish residents say “no thank you” to grants from the Whitefish Community Foundation? Maybe some of those things are OK but no more changes are welcome?
So who gets to decide?

That’s why we have a public process. In this case, the developers have even been criticized for seeking public approval, building a very comprehensive Web site and offering public meetings for feedback. It’s your right as a citizen to criticize the project, the process and whatever else bothers you. But I have a real issue with this “say no to rich people” theme. What does this mean?

Capitalism is a good thing, a key piece of a democracy. Maybe more valley residents should be thinking about the kinds of businesses they could open in Block 46 so they could become “rich” people, and give their money away to community ventures and buy blocks of town that need redevelopment, or maybe even build affordable housing. It’s time we all start thinking about businesses that can move us from survival to success in Northwest Montana.

Redevelopment is a very attractive option in my book. It’s easier and sometimes much more cost effective to do greenfields development than to look at redevelopment projects.

It often costs far less both in time and money. Looking around Whitefish, there is some great redevelopment going on. The railway district for one, is a terrific place to live, work and walk.

There are huge issues of growth and change in Whitefish, the Flathead Valley and all of the Rocky Mountain West. The land, the water, and the air are our most precious assets. The good news is we have some great “rich outsiders” who are investing in redevelopment, like Block 46, that are building infrastructure and locations that make business more doable in our region. I am excited to see this change in Whitefish and grateful for the investment.