Whitefish City Council to Consider Depot Park Renovation Plan

By Beacon Staff

A plan that lays out the future of Whitefish’s Depot Park, including the eventual removal of existing structures and greatly expanded open green space, has received the blessing of both a steering committee and the city’s park board.

The proposal will now go before the Whitefish City Council, tentatively scheduled for the council’s March 5 meeting, according to Karl Cozad, the city’s director of parks and recreation and community services.

Cozad said the project would likely be implemented in phases beginning at some point this year, depending on funding. Tax-increment financing monies have been suggested a funding source. The city is currently reviewing and prioritizing projects to receive TIF funding.

According to planning documents, Depot Park was listed as one of five priority projects in the Whitefish Downtown Business District Master Plan, along with public parking, Central Avenue, City Hall and Baker mixed-use redevelopment.

Depot Park, nestled between the historic train depot the heart of downtown, is a popular destination for daily public use and summer festivals and events, such as the farmers’ market, Huckleberry Days and Oktoberfest. Parkside Credit Union owned the space until 2009 when the city purchased it.

Last year a steering committee was assembled to explore ways to improve the park. The steering committee consisted of city staff, citizens at large and stakeholders, such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the O’Shaughnessy Center.

About 30 percent of Depot Park, according to the master plan, is occupied by “structures, paved parking areas and a dilapidated pond.” The existing structures not only take up a significant portion of the area but also “block the visual connection from the business district to the historic Depot.”

The plan calls for removing the structures in phases, including the building that now houses the parks and recreation department. The timing and feasibility of removing the parks building depends upon the city’s discussions over a new City Hall, which is expected to be the future home of the parks department.

Under the plan, the surrounding streetscape will be revitalized to “match the characteristics of the newly re-built Central Avenue” and allow for greater event staging flexibility. Enhanced paved pedestrian areas at the park’s four corners will also be implemented. The southeast corner, the plan states, will have an expanded hard surface area and a 24-foot-wide gazebo structure.

The master plan acknowledges the park’s existing trees as “an important feature,” though some trees will have to be removed or relocated, in some cases to accommodate the renovations and in other cases because of the trees’ poor condition. Four new trees are proposed as well. A new, more visually appealing water feature is also included in the plan.

The design aims to improve pedestrian access and circulation while also increasing parking. Bruce Boody Landscape Architect Inc. and Robert Peccia and Associates have served as consultants in the design process.

Cozad said planning efforts have taken into account the space’s dual use for both everyday activities and large gatherings.

“We tried to take into account what typically might take place here, what kind of utilization would occur on a day to day basis – family picnics, kids throwing frisbees – and also weekend use for events,” Cozad said. “That’s always a challenging mix.”