Kalispell Weighs Parking Garage

By Beacon Staff

Whitefish has plans to build a parking garage and Bozeman recently broke ground on one. Other Montana cities like Missoula have had multi-level parking facilities for years.

Kalispell doesn’t want to feel left out.

After two years of negotiations between the city and Valley Bank, Ron Rosenberg, the bank’s president, said by early 2008 the two parties should know if they are going to move forward with a proposal to swap downtown lots and tear down the current bank to make room for a half-block parking garage along First Avenue West. According to the deal, Valley Bank would then build a new bank on the corner of Main and Third streets, where a city-owned public parking lot now stands.

The negotiations stem from necessity: Valley Bank has outgrown its current building and the city needs more parking.

“We’d like to see it done; we’d like to get (a parking garage),” Mayor Pam Kennedy said. “We know that we have the need.”

Though no concrete deal has been worked out, Kennedy said the garage would be a mixed-use facility, incorporating parking, commercial and residential space. Such a building, she said, would be necessary to help pay for itself – the city doesn’t currently have enough funding for the project. Other locations for a multi-level parking garage have been discussed, but Kennedy says the Valley Bank spot is the primary option at this point, though she said the search for an appropriate location is an ongoing, long-term process.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “If Valley Bank decides they want (a new location) this next summer, then we’ll see. It’s just a matter of time.”

Rosenberg would like to see the proposal happen, calling it a “win-win situation” for both the bank and the city. Valley Bank would stay downtown, Main Street would become more attractive by getting rid of an open parking lot, and the city would have much-needed parking. Glacier Bank, he said, would also benefit. Glacier would relinquish some of its current parking spots for the opportunity to bring a large parking facility to its doorstep. If no deal happens, Rosenberg said, Valley Bank will either have to move elsewhere, possibly north of town, or undergo significant renovations on the existing building.

“Valley Bank sees the benefit of filling in Main Street,” Rosenberg said. “Anyone coming to the community, they all drive down Main Street. It’s the biggest chance for a first impression.”

Kennedy said she understands that within the next few years, considering the rate of Kalispell’s growth, downtown parking will become an urgent matter.

“How can you say we don’t have a parking problem?” she said.

On top of the population boom, Kennedy believes another reason to pursue a parking garage is to accommodate what she sees as a downtown resurgence. She points to projects in recent years like Camas Creek Yarn, Glacier Bank’s renovation and others as evidence of downtown’s health.

“There’s been considerable reinvestment in downtown,” Kennedy said. “I think we’re seeing that people see the importance of the heart of the community and that’s certainly what downtown is.”

Members of Kalispell’s parking commission, which manages the city’s 341 parking spots, have long expressed concern over parking shortages. One of those members, Bill Goodman, who is also the owner of the KM Building, said he has campaigned for a parking garage for the past decade. Pointing to a 1979 downtown master plan that details the need for two parking garages, Goodman said Kalispell is long overdue for expanded parking.

“Back in 1979, (the city) knew we were going to need more parking,” he said. “They’ve done nothing about it.”

Goodman said he is encouraged by the city’s interest in the Valley Bank project –what he calls the only real effort by the city to deal with parking issues in his years on the commission – but he is skeptical. He said in past years city officials have consistently ignored pleas by him, other downtown business owners and members of the parking commission to seriously consider the city’s parking problems. A particular sticking point for Goodman is the city’s failure to capitalize on tax increment financing (TIF) dollars in the past. Without downtown being a TIF district now, he said it will be hard to fund a parking garage.

“The city doesn’t feel that it wants or can afford to put more money into downtown,” Goodman said. “They had the (TIF) money but they said, ‘We don’t have a parking problem.’”

The 1979 lays out plans for two potential parking garage locations, including one where the KM Building parking lot sits now that would provide for a six-level, 450-spot parking garage. Though that downtown plan is nearly 30 years old, Goodman thinks the KM Building parking lot – which he owns – is still a good location for a garage. He said he hasn’t made a formal proposition to the city, but he has spoken with a developer that would build a multi-level garage and stick condominiums on the top level.

“I would give (the city) my lot to have that happen,” Goodman said.

In the meantime, he said downtown will suffer.

“Downtown cannot grow any further without parking,” Goodman said. “Parking is one of the things that needs to lead development. It can’t follow development.”