Tenants Concerned as Fresh Life Church Seeks to Acquire Montana Building

Growing church may expand with downtown Kalispell property

By Dillon Tabish
Fresh Life Church in Kalispell on March 9, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Cheryl Amundson started working in the Montana Building in downtown Kalispell in 1979.

The Kalispell native grew up revering the two-story brick building, which was constructed in 1910 in the heart of the growing city as the Hotel Montana with a separate downstairs storefront along First Avenue East. Touted by historians for its architectural integrity, the building still contains many of its original features, including marble and wooden floors and high-pressed metal ceilings with skylights.

Over the last century, the large building has housed a variety of commercial enterprises, from a restaurant to a liquor and cigar business to its modern-day setup with a collective of nearly a dozen professional offices that includes child and family therapists, psychologists, lawyers and nonprofit organizations.

Now the centerpiece property could be destined for a new identity as Fresh Life Church works to acquire the building.

Amundson and other business tenants in the Montana Building recently received a letter revealing the pending acquisition by Fresh Life. The deal has not yet closed but could by early April.

The potential sale is fueling concerns among tenants about their future in the building. It also marks another prominent downtown building possibly going off the city’s tax rolls. As a nonprofit, churches do not pay property taxes, nor would Fresh Life be required to pay into the city’s downtown business improvement district.

“We’re in a bit of a panic,” Amundson said. “It would’ve been nice if Fresh Life sent someone to explain the plan and their intentions. It’s not very polite.”

Since being established in Kalispell in 2007, Fresh Life Church has grown significantly in size and scope. The church, led by pastor Levi Lusko, who moved to the Flathead Valley from California and formed the church at 25, has acquired multiple properties in downtown and expanded to cities across Montana. Within only a few years, the church drew a regular local congregation of roughly 1,500 people.

As the congregation has continued to grow, so has Fresh Life’s real estate portfolio. The church moved its original headquarters from above the Overflowing Cup coffee bistro on Main Street into the Strand Theatre on Second Street East in 2007. The church purchased the theater in 2010 and that same year also bought the nearby Liberty Theatre and former First Avenue Café building next door to the Montana Building. The church also now leases space in the Montana Building.

Fresh Life Church declined to comment for this story.

Each tenant in the Montana Building received a letter two weeks ago from the property manager asking for specific lease information because the church was in the process of purchasing the site, the letters state.

Several tenants expressed fear and frustration about the unknown future, while others are simply wondering whether they will be allowed to stay in the building and pay rent to the church.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen is scary,” said Nick Hong, a licensed clinical psychologist who established his practice in the Montana Building a year ago.

“Business is business and I can respect that. But I’ve loved working here and there’s such a strong sense of community here among all the tenants.”

Samantha Travis established her new law firm, Bryan & Travis Attorneys at Law, in the Montana Building a year ago as well.

“We just wanted to be part of downtown and have our business be part of the business center,” Travis said.

Tucker Landerman opened TL Slick’s Barbershop in December in one of the building’s downstairs storefront spaces, replacing a former barbershop. He was excited to open his first business in “historic downtown.”

Unlike the upstairs tenants, Landerman said he is not worried about possible changes under the new owners.

“I’ve got a three-year lease. And I get along with the new possible owners. I cut most of the folks’ hair,” he said. “A lot of people are worrying too much.”

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