Shuttered Timber Property in Whitefish Seeks New Life

Developers proposing to revitalize 14 acres along Whitefish River with mixed-use project, including hotel and restaurant

By Dillon Tabish
A proposed development featuring sites that could accommodate a hotel, restaurant, brewery and other mixed-use developments. Courtesy 95 Karrow

Casey Malmquist has a vision for revitalizing another former industrial hub, this time in Whitefish.

The general manager of SmartLam, a rapidly growing cross-laminated timber manufacturer in Columbia Falls, is working on a separate project at the former Idaho Timber property near downtown Whitefish.

Malmquist and his investment partners, under the name 95 Karrow LLC, are working on a 14-acre mixed-use development that could include a new hotel, microbrewery, restaurant and an array of artisan businesses. If successful, the project at the north end of Karrow Avenue would redevelop a prominent section of land along the head of the Whitefish River that has sat vacant since 2009, when Idaho Timber of Montana shuttered the plant that had operated since 1979.

“My investment partners and I have been looking at that piece for several years, recognizing its potential,” Malmquist said. “It’s been a blighted area for a long time. It really seemed like a very good place for some development potential, especially as Whitefish grows.”

The developers are seeking a preliminary plat and planned-unit development, and last week the planning board unanimously recommended approval. The city council is scheduled to vote on the matter at its Dec. 4 meeting.

Click here to view a staff report on the proposed Karrow project.

Malmquist said the development would align with the city’s new Highway 93 West Corridor Plan, which seeks to spur creative economic development that would complement downtown. The property, located one block north of U.S. 93 West and one block east of Whitefish Lake Golf Club, features preliminary site plans that call for a 70-room, two-story boutique hotel, microbrewery, restaurant and a mixture of spaces for professional services and residential. The existing building in the middle of the property would remain intact and be converted into a “marketplace” with a variety of potential businesses, including a bakery, coffee shop and other artisan operations, Malmquist said. Other sites could include light manufacturing.

No specific businesses have signed deals to develop at the property yet, but “we’ve generated interest,” Malmquist said.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous stretch of river that has been totally underutilized if not abused in the past,” Malmquist said.

“From a planning standpoint, I think it makes a lot of sense as it connects to downtown and draws in the Railway District.”

The development would emerge in an area that recently underwent a zone change, from traditional industrial to new “industrial transition zones” that aim to spur light industrial, commercial and residential projects. The new zoning designations came out of the city’s corridor planning effort.

The development would also increase the presence of the Montana Veterans Peace Park, which shares a boundary line to the west of the former timber property.

Parking would be located throughout the site and shared among all users within the development. The developers would set aside 35 percent, or 5.05 acres, of the property for open space.

Buffers and setbacks would also be implemented to protect the river and water quality, according to a planning board staff report.

At the time of full build-out, the intersection of U.S. 93 West and Karrow would be required to install a traffic signal, according to a recommendation from the city’s traffic study.

With city approval, Malmquist said the development could break ground in the spring.

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