A year after breaking the city’s all-time record with $129 million worth of total construction, Kalispell topped $100 million again in 2017, coming in at $104 million, a figure on par with the best of the pre-recession boom years. By comparison, the average annual valuation of all construction in Kalispell between 2012 and 2015 was $52.5 million.
There are signs pointing to another solid year of commercial and residential development in the city in 2018. It might be hard to hit $100 million again, however, as the last two years were buoyed by large medical projects, including a $43 million multi-phase expansion at Immanuel Lutheran Communities and $65 million in construction at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, led by the 190,000-square-foot pediatric center, which is slated for completion in spring 2019.
Still, Kalispell Planning and Building Director Tom Jentz is optimistic about the 2018 construction forecast. Even if new medical development slows down, while construction continues on the ongoing projects, there are other sectors poised for a robust year, including retail, residential and public, thanks to multiple school projects in the works.
“We’re going to have a good year,” Jentz said.
As the region’s primary retail center, both for Montanans and Canadians, Kalispell will continue to see steady commercial construction activity through 2018, filling out both the north end of town and downtown, which Jentz is happy to see. In October, Main Street welcomed Montana Coffee Traders, a continuation of sustained downtown growth in recent years, which has included the arrival of Sweet Peaks Ice Cream, Kalispell Brewing Company, The Toggery, Brix Bottleshop and more.
In the coming year, Bias Brewery will open on First Avenue East, while the Italian restaurant ScottiBelli’s plans to move into the old Genki location on the corner of Main and Third streets.
“It’s filling up dramatically compared to where it was 10-15 years ago,” Jentz said of downtown Kalispell. “That’s a shining star we have. We want to keep feeding that.”
On the north end, sandwiched between Costco and Kidsports Complex, Spring Prairie will plow forward on its fourth phase with the arrival of Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI, and Panera Bread. The development will also welcome three new businesses: MOD Pizza, a fast-casual pizza restaurant chain, Kay Jewelers and T-Mobile. Additionally, Harbor Freight, a tool and equipment retailer, is currently under construction.
Those new Spring Prairie businesses will join the existing Hobby Lobby, Home Goods, Mattress Firm, Krispy Kreme, Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill and Marriott Springhill Suites.
The third phase of Spring Prairie is still filling out as well. That phase — the commercial center encompassing Cabela’s, Michaels, The Brass Tap, MacKenzie River Pizza and more — is bringing onboard the Kobe Seafood and Steakhouse, a chain Japanese restaurant with two Montana locations in Missoula and Great Falls.
Meanwhile, the Treeline Center to the west has proposed to build a hotel, Grease Monkey oil change location, office space and restaurant.
Kalispell Ford celebrated its grand opening in December at Kalispell North Town Center, a sprawling 485-acre mixed-use development tucked between U.S. Highway 93, Whitefish Stage Road, West Reserve Drive and newly extended Rose Crossing, which is still under construction and awaiting permits to build a traffic light at its intersection with the highway. The Ford dealership is the development’s first established occupant. There are currently no other projects permitted.
Directly across Highway 93 from Kalispell Ford, a 56-acre mixed-use commercial and residential development called Stillwater Bend has been annexed into the city and is currently in the design phase. It could see activity as early as spring.
In south Kalispell, the Green Nissan and Green Hyundai car dealerships are under construction and expected to open this spring near the “Four Corners” intersection south of Kalispell Toyota.
On the residential side, single- and multi-family housing in Kalispell should be strong, as multiple large projects are either underway or proposed, with anticipated activity around the new Rankin Elementary School on Airport Road already coming to fruition. Rankin is under construction and slated to open for the fall semester.
South of Merganser Drive, Southside Estates broke ground this year on its first phase, which calls for 42 housing units. Phase two — 56 units — is up for approval in January and would extend the subdivision to Airport Road.
Another south Kalispell project, a 55-unit apartment complex called The Lofts at Ashley on Airport Road, broke ground this year and will continue construction on forthcoming phases in 2018.
“A school creates energy in a neighborhood,” Jentz said.
One other potential big project is a Washington developer’s proposal to build a 324-unit apartment complex off Two Mile Drive.
Whitefish expects to see residential construction maintain a steady pace, as developers are snapping up available lots for single- and multi-family housing within city limits, with a particular emphasis on multi-family condo, townhome or apartment complexes, according to the planning and building office.
“The trend for sure is building multi-family units,” Whitefish Planning and Building Director Dave Taylor said.
While lack of affordable housing is an issue throughout the valley, it’s particularly troublesome in Whitefish, where a workforce housing needs assessment found that middle-income, working-class residents have limited options for comfortable, cost-effective living arrangements. Housing experts say the shortage, which includes a scarce rental inventory and overly expensive homeownership prices for young professionals, is forcing locals to live outside their chosen community.
In November, the Whitefish City Council adopted a blueprint to address the crisis, in which the city hopes to add hundreds of workforce housing units by 2020. The assessment identified the need for 980 total units to accommodate employee households through 2020.
The interest in developing multi-family housing could provide steps to addressing the shortage. For one, attorney Judah Gersh is exploring the possibility of building a 48-unit complex between Wisconsin and Colorado avenues behind his law office.
Also, developer Mark Panissidi purchased 13 acres with 53 lots on JP Road and River Lakes Parkway by North Valley Hospital that previously were under development by an earlier owner, but the project never got farther than the first phase, which was 29 condos and roads. Now Panissidi is proposing to add 166 townhome units. The proposal goes before the planning board on Jan. 18.
Across Highway 93 from Don K Whitefish, Jeff Swenson and Don Kaltschmidt, owner of Don K, are applying for a zoning change on 70 acres to a designation that would pave the way for a subdivision. The proposal is still in the early exploratory stages.
The biggest commercial project queued up is the redevelopment of the former Idaho Timber property at the north end of Karrow Avenue. The 14-acre mixed-use development, approved by the city council on Dec. 4, has plans to include a new hotel, microbrewery, restaurant and artisan businesses. Casey Malmquist, owner of SmartLam, is the developer along with investment partners, under the name 95 Karrow LLC.
COLUMBIA FALLS AND ELSEWHERE
The U.S. Highway 93 corridor south of Whitefish has been the subject of heavy debate, with the county and city of Whitefish butting heads for years over land-use decision-making and standards in an area with critical future development implications.
On Nov. 29, the Flathead County Commission unanimously approved the South Whitefish Overlay and zoning changes, which had been at the heart of the most recent squabble. The vote effectively created the framework for zoning and planning along roughly 1.5 miles of land south of Whitefish extending a quarter mile east and west of Highway 93, or 490 acres total.
Farther south, development is sprouting up on each side of the highway, with a casino under construction at the intersection with Hodgson Road, an RV retailer across from the landfill and the potential 57-unit Raceway Park subdivision just south of the landfill.
Columbia Falls has been experiencing a surge in development, led by serial investor Mick Ruis, a high school dropout who became a multimillionaire in the scaffolding industry. Ruis has invested more than $15 million in Columbia Falls projects over the last two years, including the Cedar Creek Lodge. He also redeveloped properties up and down Nucleus Avenue, which in turn has attracted additional development.
The result is a thoroughly revitalized downtown, with growth expected to continue in 2018. An 18-unit apartment complex called the Glacier Courtyards has broken ground and will replace the former DaVall Building. Also, Pat Carloss, owner of Tupelo Grille in Whitefish, is retrofitting the old Bandit Bar into family-friendly bar and grill expected to open early this year.