The Kalispell City Council is considering adopting an urban renewal plan that would help create a tax increment finance (TIF) district to fund improvements in the downtown area.
A public hearing was held on Nov. 19 to gather input on the Draft Downtown Kalispell Urban Renewal Plan that was produced by the planning department earlier this year. The city council will decide at its Dec. 3 meeting whether to adopt the plan.
If approved, the urban renewal plan would allow the city council to create a TIF district that would generate money to help build a new parking garage, widen sidewalks, improve water service and a number of other goals outlined in the plan.
The urban renewal plan came as a result of the Downtown Plan, a document that outlined the city council’s hopes for the core area of Kalispell and was adopted in December 2017. State law requires a community to adopt an urban renewal plan prior to implementing a TIF district.
The proposed TIF district would stretch from First Street south to the Flathead County Courthouse loop. On the north end, the district would encompass Third Avenue West to Third Avenue East. On the south end, it would only stretch from First Avenue West to First Avenue East.
A TIF district does not increase property taxes, but any new revenue generated by a property within the district would be set aside for improvements in the downtown area.
The urban renewal plan recommends seven specific improvements in the downtown area, mostly involving infrastructure. The plan calls for wider sidewalks and the restoration of a center turn lane on U.S. Highway 93 through downtown. The turn lane would allow drivers to make left turns at every intersection in downtown. The wider sidewalks would also allow for more landscape and street trees in the downtown area. Currently, there are four lanes of traffic on U.S. 93 but city officials would like to see that reduced to two.
Parking is another area the urban renewal plan calls on the city to address. Currently there is 140,000 square feet of underutilized space in the downtown area (including vacant or underutilized basement areas and second floors). If and when those areas are redeveloped or put to use, the need for parking in the downtown area will substantially increase. The plan calls for the construction of a new parking garage somewhere in the downtown area.
According to the renewal plan, one of the biggest needs in the downtown area is better water service. Currently, there is a water main underneath U.S. Highway 93 but it offers inadequate water pressure and is expensive to tap into.
Lastly, the urban renewal plan calls for TIF funds to be spent on helping property owners redevelop old buildings while maintaining their historic character.
During the Nov. 19 public hearing, four people spoke in favor of improvements to the downtown area, including Pam Carbonari of the Downtown Business Improvement Board.