Whitefish Passed Over for New Clinic

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – This community that appeared to be the future home of a $4.6 million eating-disorder clinic delivering more than 30 jobs has been passed over for Missoula, a city the developers say offers a more “streamlined and welcoming” process for the clinic, which may qualify for federal stimulus money.

Partners Steve Bryson and John Bennett had planned to build the 24-bed, nonprofit clinic at North Valley Hospital’s campus south of Whitefish. Now they are working with the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp. to build on 8.5 acres southwest of Missoula.

“This would’ve been a great match for Whitefish, but the labyrinth of getting (approval) through the city is something I didn’t think I could trust,” said Bryson, a licensed counselor.

Qualifying for up to $450,000 in federal stimulus money requires that work on clinic construction be ready to go. Bryson is more optimistic about getting the necessary clearances in Missoula than in Whitefish.

Having the University of Montana in Missoula close by pushed the location decision “over the top,” Bryson said, but the university also would have supplied interns and research had the center been built in Whitefish.

Bryson said he expects that construction will begin this summer, and that the Missoula clinic will open before the summer of 2010.

“Of all the things we had a chance to get and to have blown it,” said Turner Askew, a Whitefish City Council member and North Valley Hospital trustee.

“This has been a real wake-up call,” Askew said. “At full build-out, this would have been 32 high-paying jobs for Whitefish.”

Bryson said the eating-disorder clinic will be affiliated with St. Patrick Hospital and its corporate parent, the nonprofit Providence Health & Services.

Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said the city’s involvement began in late 2008 when North Valley Hospital applied for a neighborhood plan amendment to accommodate construction of the clinic. That application was scheduled for a public hearing in January, but at the hospital’s request, the hearing was postponed until March.

The Whitefish Public Works Department noted at the time that a traffic study had not been included in the application, Stearns said, and that the hospital put the request on hold until the traffic study was complete and a site review could be done. The requested amendment was never put back on the agenda, however.

To meet the requirements for a place on the April 16 agenda, the hospital would have had to complete its request by March 2, Stearns said. Bryson said city officials told the hospital’s engineer that April’s Planning Board agenda was full, but the hearing could be held in May.

“If they (North Valley Hospital) were on the May agenda, they could get all the approvals at the June 1 council meeting,” Stearns said. “For a while that seemed to be working. Then a number of things transpired” and Missoula was chosen.

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