Kalispell Considers Paying for Kidsports Easement

By Beacon Staff

Facing a rapidly approaching deadline, the city of Kalispell is considering a payment of roughly $2.29 million to acquire a permanent easement for Kidsports Complex that would guarantee the preservation of the regional youth sports landmark.

In 1996 the city agreed to relocate several baseball fields to an empty section of state-owned school trust land on U.S. Highway 93 North after the council approved Ordinance 1260, creating the City Airport/Athletic Complex Redevelopment Plan. The ordinance implemented a tax increment financing district specifically designed to help facilitate and finalize the move.

Sixteen years later, that 138-acre section of state land has developed into a popular sports destination in the heart of Kalispell’s robust north business district. Kidsports Complex is home to 30 baseball, soccer and football fields and attracts thousands of visitors from across the state, Pacific Northwest and Canada every year while providing a unified site for local youth organizations. It allows Kalispell to host major events like the recent Class AA high school boys and girls state championship soccer tournaments.

“Our economy needs things like this to attract people from the outside to come in and spend their money here,” City Councilor Jeff Zauner said at a recent meeting. “I encourage the city of Kalispell to do whatever we can to enhance it and keep this thing going as long as we can.”

Members of the private nonprofit Kidsports organization have plans to add six more fields and improve parking and access, but there’s a much larger task taking precedence.

Kidsports is seeking a permanent easement for its location, which would require a one-time payment of $2.29 million to the state. Two weeks ago the State Land Board agreed on the terms of an easement deal and determined the appraised purchase price would be $18,515 per acre. Kidsports can either pay the entire cost before Dec. 31 or incrementally over the next five years with minimum payments of $100,000 annually. DNRC has required an additional sliding option payment due each year beginning at 1 percent and growing to 2 percent by the fifth year, which could add a sizeable amount of money Kidsports would need to include in its annual payments.

As a way to save the organization from paying the extra costs, and to help usher future improvements, Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell suggested the council consider buying out the easement before Dec. 31 using money that has accrued in the Airport/Athletic Complex TIF district. The district generates roughly $550,000 per year that enters into the TIF fund.

At a recent council work session, Russell said he believed this would be an appropriate use of TIF funds because the district was originally established with Kidsports in mind. In addition, by paying for the easement, the city could leverage a deal with Kidsports that tasked the organization with improving parking, street access and other advancements that would benefit the city and its significant asset.

Dan Johns, the president and founder of Kidsports, supported Russell’s idea and agreed that it would allow the organization to focus its fundraising efforts on building six new fields, adding more parking lots and extending Four Mile Drive west to Stillwater Road, creating new street access.

Another aspect of the evolving situation at Kidsports includes future commercial development on a portion of property on the northeast section called Victory Commons. The state, city of Kalispell and Kidsports accepted a proposal from Goldberg Properties and The Kroenke Group to lease and develop 28 acres on the corner of U.S. 93 and Reserve Loop. Kidsports agreed to release almost 13 acres for development, which would require the relocation of the current gravel trail. But the developer would have to pay Kidsports a portion of the lease price, helping fund site improvements.

After councilors expressed glowing support and praise for the sports complex and its organizer, Russell and the city staff have begun gathering information to give a presentation in the near future about possibly paying for the easement.

“If it balances out we should do it,” said Councilor Wayne Saverud.

Before the meeting’s conclusion, Councilor Jim Atkinson asked the cautionary question: Who would be our enemies in this?

Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz responded, “I think we’d be leading a parade.”

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