Building a Vibrant Downtown Through Retention and Recruitment

By Beacon Staff

The Kalispell Business Improvement District recently hosted meetings featuring an urban development specialist, who told various business owners and city officials that a downtown is dependent on retaining and recruiting businesses.

Scott Day, owner of Urban Development Services in San Antonio, Texas, told a group gathered at the Museum at Central School that a vibrant downtown area is integral to a city’s tax base.

His visit, which spanned April 12 and April 13, was sponsored by the Montana Department of Commerce’s Main Street program. Kalispell is an affiliate member of the program, which provides an approach to downtown revitalization focusing on preserving historical commercial districts.

While discussing downtown Kalispell with resident business owners on April 12, Day spoke about developing a downtown business base.

“It needs to be part of your overall economic strategy,” Day said.

Day noted that the recession likely resulted in a number of storefront vacancies in Kalispell, and it presents an opportunity for stable businesses to expand.

However, the bulk of his workshop was centered on how to keep existing businesses and convince new businesses to occupy empty spaces. Kalispell needs to play to its strengths, Day said, which business owners said included being the county seat and near Glacier National Park.

In order for the city to build a strong downtown, Day said there needs to be “mixed-use development,” meaning more than just retail, as well as good transportation links, a mix of income ranges and a mix of businesses building traffic for each other.

The primary goal, he said, is to put existing infrastructure to use again.

“That’s a big selling point,” Day said.

Day also suggested that businesses in downtown Kalispell form a committee to collect specific data on the existing retail market to help recruit businesses that would complement the ones already in place.

“What we’re really about in a downtown is an enjoyable shopping experience,” Day said.

A committee could also hold downtown retention seminars, make low-interest loans and grants available and share market data.

A downtown business retention program cannot solve every business problem, nor can is save all businesses, Day noted, but it can make it easier to recruit new interests to the area.

Some of the projects could include: help with merchandizing and window displays, interpreting market analyses, improving advertising and utilizing online tools.

Day said he would prepare a report on his findings after visiting with Kalispell businesses and officials. He said that the group of business owners needs to take a building inventory, especially on the vacancy rate, as well as make a list of local, state and national incentives for small businesses.

Having this information already in place would help when trying to sell downtown Kalispell as a location for a new business, he said.