Kalispell’s Core Area Redevelopment Plan Inches Forward

By Beacon Staff

As city officials strive for nearly $10 million in federal grant funding, Kalispell’s core area redevelopment plan continues to materialize.

The expansive revitalization project could begin transforming parts of downtown within five years by replacing the railroad tracks with a pedestrian pathway and reconnecting disjointed streets and neighborhoods into a cohesive grid, according to city staff.

The projects, which are primary components of the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan, are hinging on a few factors and funding sources, including a federal grant that could launch the entire enterprise into motion.

This week the city is once again applying for a highly competitive federal transportation grant, known as a TIGER grant, that is awarded annually to one priority project per state. Kalispell fell short in its bid last year but city staff have bolstered their latest application and are now reapplying for $9.9 million.

Katharine Thompson, Kalispell’s community development manager, is spearheading the application process and two weeks ago met with federal officials in Washington D.C. to gather input on the application and proposed project. Thompson said administrators were impressed with the city’s core area plan, and she feels confident that the latest proposal is strong and worthy of winning favor with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The federal funding would help spur the development of an industrial rail yard proposed on 40 acres of open land off Whitefish Stage Road, as well as other components of the ambitious core area scheme.

If the city fails to win the TIGER grant, the plan would be stalled by a few years amid a search for other funding sources, according to city staff.

Crafted over several years with heavy community input, the city’s strategy is focused on nurturing a mixed-use economic sector in the heart of Kalispell, involving 364 acres in the historical industrial center. The plan includes the creation of a pathway system that would replace the railroad tracks and provide an interconnected sidewalk from the east side of town to the west.

According to city staff, a survey of area business owners and other stakeholders found broad support for the trails, and an out-of-state consulting firm identified the trails as a potential catalyst for urban renewal in the 364-acre core area.

Another objective is to reconnect at least six streets along Railroad Street West on the north side of the Kalispell Center Mall. The neighborhood is fragmented by the tracks, and by rejoining the streets, city staff see the potential redevelopment of roughly 14 acres of land that is landlocked and underutilized.

A linchpin of the entire vision, the city must first remove the railroad tracks and relocate all of CHS’s rail-served operations, including the company’s grain elevators on Center Street and its main office on Idaho Street. The development of an industrial rail yard would provide a new site where CHS could consolidate its operations, along with other potential private businesses that could move in.

The city council will vote whether to annex the county land at its Monday meeting, a move that would allow city services to be used on-site.

The city has estimated that it would cost $22 million to remove the railroad tracks, help relocate CHS, develop a trail system through town and reconnect several streets.

Preliminary engineering estimates show the total cost of constructing the trail and reconnecting the streets is $4.63 million over a five-year term. The total cost would include an estimated $1.4 million for developing the trail; $1.3 million for the pedestrian cross upgrades and rail crossing sites; $1.07 million for completing the street connections; and $200,000 for potential land acquisitions.

Last week the Urban Renewal Agency unanimously recommended the city council use tax increment finance funds in the west side district to help pay for the urban renewal projects.

The council will decide whether to follow the committee’s recommendation at its meeting Monday night.

The URA is recommending the city devote roughly $4.06 million in TIF funds for the projects. The city has $2.87 million in TIF fund reserves and is expected to gain an additional $9.5 million over the remaining years of the district, according to the city.

Remaining funds are expected to come from the city’s Brownfields program, which addresses environmental assessments and cleanups.

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