Buyers Vet Big Store Site

By Beacon Staff

Northwest Fresh Marketplace is lonely, though maybe not for long.

The abandoned building has sat without activity since Tidyman’s closed down the remainder of its grocery stores last summer. In that time period, quite a few potential buyers have expressed interest in the property, said Ross Pickert, the Coldwell Banker real estate agent representing the building. Pickert is confident the vacancy is going to be “short-lived.”

“There’s been numerous retailers and a lot of different types of businesses (interested),” he said. “And there have been a lot of public entities asking to utilize the building if they can come up with the funding. But nobody has pulled the trigger.”

Mike Strotheide, the president of Montana West Economic Development, said a Fortune 500 financial services company contacted his organization about the property. Strotheide then contacted Pickert. The out-of-state financial company liked the location enough to send a representative out to inspect it in July, Strotheide said.

A company of that size, Strotheide said, might initially choose 150 cities as potential locations to open a new branch. For company officials to send someone to Kalispell is significant.

“You usually don’t get a site visit until you’re one of the few cities left,” he said.

The company chose Kalispell as a potential site, Strotheide said, because of a recommendation from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Despite the apparent interest, Strotheide estimates that the chances of Kalispell ultimately being the final choice are about 20 percent, which is still substantial. The worry, Strotheide said, is that Kalispell’s work force isn’t big enough to provide for the estimated 250-500 workers necessary to operate the branch.

“Getting 250 to 500 workers at nine to 11 dollars an hour,” he said, “is a lot harder than a few different businesses with 20 workers at 15 or 16 dollars an hour.”

He said retail is the best fit for the building, though a big company like the financial service could fill the large space with offices. Many people are attracted to the centralized location, Strotheide said, but the building’s size limits the number of capable buyers.

Pickert said development north of Kalispell on U.S. 93 is another factor in selling the Tidyman’s space.

“The expansion of Lowe’s and Home Depot has absorbed some of those potential clients,” he said.

One party vying for the site is neither retail nor business. The Flathead County Library has contracted CTA Architects to do a feasibility study to determine if the library can afford to buy and upkeep the property, said director Kim Crowley. CTA will present its findings to the library board on Sept. 13. If the board decides to move forward with it, the next step would be a county bond. The library’s other option, Crowley said, is building from scratch a new facility next to Flathead Valley Community College.

“Right now we need to compare those two options,” she said.

When the library held public input sessions and asked people what they would most like to see in a new library, Crowley said to her surprise people cited a community meeting space. Number two was an expanded database and supply of books and resources. To provide a centralized community meeting space, the library needs to stay close to downtown, Crowley said.

“It would hurt the city of Kalispell if the library moved out of (downtown),” Crowley said.

Also, parking is an issue.

“We have no parking,” Crowley said. “That’s the biggest complaint we have.”

The current library, which is for sale, is 29,000 square feet. Crowley would like to have 55,000 square feet, though the Tidyman’s building, at 52,000 square feet, is sufficient. The library right now isn’t big enough to accommodate the 800 to 1,500 people that come in everyday, Crowley said. A bigger place also makes sense considering the rate of growth.

For the last years of Northwest Fresh Marketplace’s existence, Tidyman’s leased the space from four real estate investors based out of Spokane. Those four still own the building. Tidyman’s shut the store down along with all of its others after a damaging sexual discrimination lawsuit.

The building, along with its abandoned Dollar Store neighbor, used to sit in a tax increment financing (TIF) district, which was the main reason Tidyman’s moved in, said Sandy Wheeler of Kalispell’s Community Development Program. TIF districts encourage development by offering property tax incentives to developers in designated areas. Wheeler said the TIF district expired three years ago, but she still thinks the building is appealing enough to developers to sell without the TIF incentive.

Along with the Tidyman’s and Dollar Store spaces, down the street the Sportsman Ski Haus is also unoccupied. Pickert said filling big buildings like those three is important for Kalispell.

“The larger buildings that employ more people are going to help smaller businesses around them,” he said.

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