Economic Development Authority Inks Deal with CHS to Move to Rail Park

City close to selecting design firm for new rail trail

By Justin Franz
Construction of the Glacier Rail Park project in Kalispell on Dec. 19, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Economic Development Authority announced last week that it had finalized an agreement to lease space to Cenex Harvest States at the soon-to-be built Glacier Rail Park.

Officials say the agreement is a major step toward redeveloping Kalispell’s core area, which is currently home to a number of industries and a railroad. If everything goes according to plan, CHS and Northwest Drywall Building Supply will move from the downtown area to the rail park in 2019 and the railroad tracks, a staple of the town since 1892, will be pulled up and replaced by a trail.

CHS will lease 10.9 acres at the new rail park that is currently being constructed east of downtown, not far from Whitefish Stage Road. The site will include a grain elevator and fertilizer facility. CHS will also construct a new fueling station at the intersection of Montclair Drive, East Oregon Lane and Flathead Drive.

As part of the agreement, FCEDA will purchase the CHS property near downtown that will be set aside for redevelopment. CHS is expected to begin construction on its new facilities sometime this year.

The Glacier Rail Park is currently under construction. Road and utility improvements throughout and around the Rail Park are underway, including a new traffic signal and turning lanes at the intersection of US Highway 2 East, Woodland Park Drive and Flathead Drive. All surrounding roads will be built for heavy truck traffic.

Besides facilities for CHS and Northwest Drywall, a “team track” will also be built at the rail park. A team track is a sidetrack that multiple industries can use.

Officials say there is space for one more industry within the new rail park and they are activity looking for companies interested in moving to the site.

The news that CHS had formally agreed to move to the rail park was the latest in a project that many have said will transform Kalispell. The Glacier Rail Park project was first launched in 2012 and is partially funded by a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project is expected to generate approximately $40 million in direct infrastructure and new facility construction over approximately three years, according to FCEDA.

Meanwhile, Kalispell officials have been meeting with prospective companies to design the new trail through downtown. The trail will stretch from Woodland Park west to Meridian Road along the former Great Northern Railway right-of-way. The owner of the tracks, BNSF Railway, has filed to abandon the rails through town and trains will stop running into Kalispell once the new rail park is completed. The winning design firm is expected to be chosen later this week. Input from the public and local business on what the trail and surrounding developments should look like will be solicited in the coming months, according to city officials.