Progress Continues on Rail Park, Downtown Redevelopment

City officials say interest in soon-to-be redeveloped core continues to grow

By Justin Franz
A Mission Mountain freight train rolls through downtown Kalispell on June 10, 2015. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Four years ago, when local officials came to the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon to talk about the efforts to remove the train tracks and redevelop the community’s core, the presentation had to be delayed.

It was delayed, because a half-mile long freight train was gumming up traffic in downtown Kalispell.

On June 21, local officials returned with an update on the effort that has made strides in recent months since receiving a $10 million TIGER grant from the federal government. During the chamber luncheon, local officials laid out a timeline for when construction of the rail park and downtown trail would begin. Officials with the Kalispell Center Mall also announced that Herberger’s would be doubling in size to 80,000 square feet.

Tom Jentz, planning and building director for the Kalispell, pointed to the Herberger’s announcement as a reason why the city has backed the redevelopment effort for so long.

“This is what the project is all about,” he told chamber members gathered at the Kalispell Red Lion Inn. “This will grow our core area and grow our downtown.”

“This the most exciting project to happen in Kalispell in 100 years,” Jentz added.

The Flathead County Economic Development Authority and the City of Kalispell are spearheading the project.

An environmental assessment of the future rail park site off Whitefish Stage Road is currently being completed and Jentz is hopeful it will be done by fall. Jentz said construction of the 40-acre Glacier Rail Park could begin in early 2017. When complete it will feature shovel-ready sites with rail access for commercial businesses. The rail park will also have a team track, where local businesses can temporarily rent track space to load and unload freight cars. The rail park will be served by the Mission Mountain Railroad, which connects with BNSF Railway’s main line to Seattle and Chicago in Columbia Falls.

The first business to claim a spot at the future rail park is CHS Kalispell, which currently operates a grain elevator along the tracks near downtown. CHS General Manager Mark Lalum told luncheon attendees that they hope to begin construction on their new facility in the middle of 2017 and move the business there the following year.

Once CHS’ operation is moved, the tracks could be ripped up, possibly as early as the fall of 2018.

Jentz said interest in Kalispell’s core has grown rapidly since the city got the TIGER grant. He said the city gets one or two requests a month from national developers looking for information on starting residential, commercial or retail projects in Kalispell.

“There are a whole gamut of developers looking at projects in the core area,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Kalispell.”

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