Plans Scrapped for Whitefish Convention Center

By Beacon Staff

Plans to build a $70 million resort complex and convention center in Whitefish are being abandoned after the high-ticket project’s financial backer pulled out of the arrangement.

The project’s supporter, a Minnesota developer named Pat Sullivan, previously launched a feasibility analysis in partnership with the Montana West Economic Development and the Flathead County Economic Development authority to determine whether Whitefish is suited for a 100-room boutique hotel that would feature an outdoor amphitheater, ice rink, convention center and indoor water park to accommodate between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

Sullivan terminated his affiliation with the Two Elk Lodge project because of health issues, said Kellie Danielson, president of Montana West Economic Development, while a consultant hired to assess the feasibility concluded that Whitefish’s remote geographical location and lack of adequate air service presented marketing and logistical challenges.

The study, conducted by Greg Hanis, president of Hospitality Marketers International, Inc., determined that a large-scale destination convention center was unlikely to be successful in Whitefish, but that a market existed to support a downtown hotel and smaller meeting facility.

“Our market research indicated that moving 1,000 to 2,000 people to the Whitefish area for group meetings, conventions and trade shows presented difficulty,” according to the report.

The consultant also concluded that, because Whitefish is isolated from the interstate, the massive log-and-stone complex would not draw visitors from a broad enough geographic pool to make the project solvent and justify the expense.

“He didn’t see the ability to tap into anything larger than a statewide market,” Danielson said.

Another version of the project may still move forward, however. The consultant said other selling points for such a complex in Whitefish include the Flathead Valley’s proximity to Alberta and British Columbia and its allure to Canadian visitors, who flock to Whitefish in droves during the winter and summer months. He said a national chain is interested in investing in the project, according to Danielson, who declined to name the company.

Still, the high airfare and limited number of daily flights to Glacier Park International Airport put the area at a disadvantage, and Hanis said he considers Whitefish mainly “a drive-in market.”

The Whitefish downtown master plan has identified a boutique downtown hotel as a priority for years, and in June developer Orlan Sorenson proposed building an $11.9 million hotel at the intersection of Spokane Avenue and East Second Street; however, he halted the plans after having trouble procuring the financing.

Plans for other projects – like the construction of a boutique hotel at the corner of Central Avenue and First Street, and another proposal to build on prime real estate at Central Avenue and First Street, next to Craggy Range – have also materialized, only to lose momentum.

Danielson said she envisions the project moving forward in time.

“There is a market for an upscale hotel in Whitefish. We are disappointed, but the consultant did say that a national chain is interested in moving forward with the project,” Danielson said.

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