Whitefish’s Construction Resurgence

By Beacon Staff

Construction season in Whitefish is off to a busy start, both in projects breaking ground and proposals working their way out of the idea stage into the building phase.

From a new food bank and several commercial expansions to proposals for an apartment complex and downtown hotel, the city is continuing to move well past the construction woes of the recession. While some of the projects may never get fully approved, the scope and number of building plans give credence to the notion of growing confidence in the economy.

The activity is apparent across the board, with the notable exception of subdivisions, which remain sluggish. New single-family residential construction is robust and city planning officials believe it could end up close to 2006 levels, during the height of the housing boom before the market crashed. The planning department says the homes are in both expensive and more modest neighborhoods.

A major reconstruction of Whitefish High School is underway, as is the construction of a new North Valley Food Bank on Flathead Avenue near the Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center. In April, crews broke ground on an expansion at North Valley Hospital that will house surgical services.

Two major downtown commercial projects could also be on the horizon for this summer. Plans are emerging for a multi-story development at the vacant corner of Baker Avenue and Second Street across from City Hall. The development would include commercial retail on the ground level and condos or apartments above, according to the planning department.

The other major downtown proposal is an $11.9 million boutique hotel on the block at Third Street and Spokane Avenue commonly called Block 46. The development, as proposed by Orlan Sorensen, would encompass the entire block and include a three-story hotel with 80 rooms. The project will go before the planning board in June. Sorensen hopes to break ground this summer.

At a May 16 meeting, the Whitefish city-county planning board approved an addition for the Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center and a proposal from Ryan Zinke to turn a residence on West Second Street into a bed and breakfast. The board tabled a plan for a 150-unit apartment complex on East Second Street.

The Wave is planning to build a 9,200-square-foot addition that would include a daycare center, party rooms, an aerobic room and a reorganization of the locker rooms. The project is slated for a public hearing and final action from the city council on June 3.

Zinke’s project is a modified version of his family’s earlier proposal to build both a bed and breakfast on Second Street and a microbrewery across the street. The proposal approved by the planning board last week only includes the bed and breakfast, called the Snowfrog Inn.

The Zinkes plan to convert their family’s historic replica carriage house at 409 West Second Street into an inn with six rooms for rent, as well as accommodations for a live-in manager and 10 off-street parking spaces. The city council will hold a hearing on the proposal at its June 3 meeting.

A rendering by CTA Architects Engineers of the proposed addition at the Wave in Whitefish. | Contributed photo

For the second time in two months, the planning board tabled a vote on the East Second Street apartment complex, which would be built in what’s currently an open field near the intersection of Second Street and Armory Road.

After the planning board first tabled the project in March, the developers went back to the drawing board and returned to the board last week with a scaled-down proposal. A number of neighbors again voiced concerns about the project and the board decided to table it for two more months to give the developers time to tweak it more.

The current 150-unit proposal, brought forth by Sean Averill and William MacDonald on behalf of Community Infill Partners, includes plans for 112 apartments in 10 buildings, nine attached condominiums in four buildings and 29 detached single-family home condominiums, according to planning department documents.

Also, crews are making progress on a reconstruction of U.S. Highway 93 in west Whitefish. That project, which kicked off in mid-April, will update old infrastructure, relieve traffic congestion and address safety issues for both drivers and pedestrians.

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