Outlook 2019: Residential Rising

Commercial development slows in Kalispell, but residential surges there and elsewhere, led by apartment complexes with more than 1,000 new multi-family units approved and hundreds more proposed across the county

By Myers Reece
The pace of residential construction in the Flathead Valley is expected to be brisk in 2019. Beacon File Photo

Following years of significant construction in retail, health care and public schools, Kalispell is preparing for those sectors to slow down and give way to a burst of residential activity in 2019, with a substantial proliferation of apartment complexes.

Whitefish and Columbia Falls, as well as unincorporated communities in Flathead County such as Evergreen and Bigfork, are also poised for robust residential construction, potentially the most in at least a decade in Whitefish, including a similarly high percentage of townhomes and multi-family housing.

Officials are touting the numerous newly approved apartment complexes and townhomes as a step toward offering more affordable housing in the area, an issue plaguing communities throughout the valley.

Single-family residences, widely ranging in value, will also be added to the housing inventory at a vigorous clip, with a number of projects poised to break ground this spring and summer.


Very little new commercial development is planned this year in Kalispell after a flurry of construction in recent years, especially on the north side, including the openings in 2018 of REI, Panera Bread, Harbor Freight Tools, MOD Pizza and more. Downtown also continued its renaissance with the openings of Bias Brewing on First Avenue West and Sunrift Beer along the future Kalispell Trail.

A handful of ongoing commercial projects, however, are wrapping up, including My Place Hotel and Urban Bricks Pizza.

“I don’t have any new retail sitting on the shelf,” Kalispell Planning and Building Director Tom Jentz said.

The same goes for major health care projects, as the everyday sight of heavy machinery and construction crews in the extended medical community in north Kalispell will largely come to an end after the expected spring opening of Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s $40 million 190,000-square-foot Montana Children’s Medical Center. Both KRH’s $12.9 million Digestive Health Institute and Immanuel Lutheran Communities’ $43 million expansion were completed in 2018.

Kalispell Public Schools’ widespread renovating and new construction is similarly ramping down, as Rankin Elementary School opened this fall and the most of the major remaining work on various schools funded by a 2016 bond approval is nearing completion.

“We got so used to the new normal, but right now the story is we’re finishing up some of those big projects that have been on the books for years,” Jentz said.

All of which means the vast majority of new construction will occur in the residential sector. While residential growth has been strong in the city for years, the 2019 outlook is especially busy, with building planned across a broad spectrum, including both multi-family and single-family residences, as both new subdivisions and expansions of existing developments are permitted and expected to move dirt this year.

“Residential is taking off,” Jentz said.

While new single-family residences will be plentiful, Jentz said “multi-family could be the story of next year,” with roughly 700 combined multi-family units planned and initial phases expected to break ground in spring and summer, including a 324-unit apartment complex on Two Mile Drive. A city block away from that project, just north of the Gateway Community Center, is a planned 120-unit complex.

Glacier Town Center isn’t seeing much commercial activity, but a developer has plans to build 120 multi-family units on the center’s northern edge, due east of the National Guard Armory and north of Rose Crossing. One hundred multi-family units have also been approved off Meridian Court, while Silverbrook Estates, in a shift from its prior focus on single-family and townhomes, is proposing 180 apartments and 48 condos.

Also at Silverbrook, in a portion of the development zoned for commercial use off Church Drive, a new gym — World Gym — is in the works, with plans allowing for more commercial buildings to open around it.

Meanwhile, The Lofts at Ashley, a 55-unit apartment complex on Airport Road, will be finished this spring. Southside Estates between the bypass and Airport Road is set to begin its second phase of single-family residences.

The new West Side Interceptor Project, an expansive wastewater system, will continue to open up residential construction opportunities throughout western Kalispell, where the majority of new subdivisions are popping up.

Meadow’s Edge, a subdivision that calls for 322 homes off Three Mile Drive, is slated to break ground on its first phase this year. The expansive project calls for a mix of single-family residences, townhomes and multi-family units, as well as a commercial area at the intersection of Three Mile and Springcreek Road, which will be converted to a four-way stop.

Another Three Mile proposal, Cottage Gardens, would add 37 single-family residences if approved.

Jentz also expects more activity on the horizon along the emerging Kalispell Trail, which will replace the railroad tracks through the heart of town.

“There’s lots of interest in the rail corridor,” he said.

Rendering of a proposed 234-unit apartment complex at the former North Valley Hospital site in Whitefish. Courtesy Image


A total of 144 new residential units were permitted in Whitefish from January through the end of November, the second most in the last decade behind 2016. That total included 63 single-family homes valued at nearly $31 million, as well as 27 townhouses and 54 multi-family units.

If a number of large projects either approved in 2018 or pending approval break ground and start submitting building permit applications, 2019 could see record or near-record residential construction.

Three projects approved in 2018 — Alta Views off JP Road, Eagle Lake by Mountain Mall and The Quarry on Wisconsin Avenue — have the potential alone to bring more than 260 units to the city, with construction timelines depending on phasing and build-out plans.

“If you’re looking at 2019, there’s a good indication that all those approved projects, if they all come forward, there’s going to be a lot of residential construction,” Whitefish Planning and Building Director Dave Taylor said.

Additionally, the city council on Jan. 7 is scheduled to discuss a proposal to build a 234-unit apartment complex, consisting of seven buildings, at the old North Valley Hospital site. The owner of the property is Michael Goguen and the applicant is Will McDonald. Roughly 30 percent of the 11.8 acres would be open space.

The project calls for 90 studio apartments, 90 one-bedroom units and 54 two-bedroom units, and includes 20 percent — or 47 of the 234 units — to provide deed-restricted affordable housing. The affordable units would be income-restricted and managed in partnership with the Whitefish Housing Authority.

The city had $5.5 million worth of commercial projects permitted from January through November of 2018, including five new projects, nine additions and 28 remodels. There should be a number of notable commercial projects moving forward this year as well, including the $26 million new Muldown Elementary School.

The city council on Jan. 7 is also scheduled to review a proposed amendment to the 95 Karrow planned-unit development, a mixed-use project proposed at the former Idaho Timber property. The amendment would add “clubs, private and semi-private recreation facilities” to the list of permitted uses to accommodate a business called the Wellness Institute.

Also on the Jan. 7 agenda is a proposal to develop 38 rental apartments in three buildings on Edgewood Place. The proposed complex received $6.75 million in federal tax credits through the Montana Board of Housing to support affordable housing.

Mick Ruis, who is known for his development and philanthropy in Columbia Falls, is making progress on a project to construct three new buildings on Central Avenue directly south of First Presbyterian Church. One building is complete, the second is underway and the third is in the permitting process. Each will feature commercial on the ground floor and residential condos above.

Rendering of a proposed monument project at the entrance to Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls. Courtesy Image

Columbia Falls

Columbia Falls has experienced a renaissance in both the commercial and residential sectors in recent years, with Ruis leading the charge.

In addition to developing the Cedar Creek Lodge, Ruis has been active downtown, including constructing a three-story building on Nucleus Avenue with commercial on the main floor and residential above, as well as an 18-unit apartment complex just off Nucleus.

Combined with Bill Goldberg’s Columbia Crest, a three-story project on Nucleus that features commercial on the main floor and eight condos on the top floors, Columbia Falls has greatly expanded its downtown housing inventory.

“That’s 34 units downtown within a year and a half, which is really good,” said City Manager Susan Nicosia. “And it’s added more business and retail space.”

Nicosia is excited by the bustling activity downtown, which also includes new owners at the bowling alley with forward-thinking ideas, the city’s fledgling tax-increment financing (TIF) district improving alleyways and pedestrian safety, and various other projects.

“We see either a lot of remodeling or expansion of existing space, and we continue to see downtown development be more active,” Nicosia said.

Also in the works is a monument project led by the Columbia Falls Community Foundation, a privately funded endeavor that is partnering with the city to erect welcome signs and concrete monuments at the entrance to Nucleus Avenue. Nicosia said ever since an arch was removed there in the 1980s, “there has always been an interest in, ‘How do we tell people this is where downtown is?’”

“It’s coming to life this year with the community foundation’s project,” she said. “Ultimately we will also look at adding pedestrian lighting along Nucleus. This is the start of that downtown development.”

Columbia Falls is also joining the list of Flathead Valley towns to add ample multi-family housing, led by the Highline Apartments on Bill’s Lane, a project that calls for six 36-unit buildings totaling more than 200 apartments altogether. The buildings will be constructed two at a time, with the first two already underway. Two different six-unit complexes are also planned on Diane Road.

The Highline Apartments are considered commercial, not residential, as they will be managed as rentals and not for sale. The developer, Greenway Capital, is from Springfield, Missouri.

“Those folks started vacationing here and bought their own condo and saw a real need for the type of housing they do in Missouri,” Nicosia said.

Nicosia said the town has averaged about 20 new single-family residences a year and expects that trend to continue.

On the industrial side, the $1.7 million Western Building Center truss plant was completed this year, while the rail-served Columbia Rising Industrial Park is moving forward with SmartLam, its anchor tenant, launching the building process.

“That’s significant,” Nicosia said.

The city has also been focusing on developing a transportation plan, improving trails and parks and welcoming a new fishing pond, slated for completion this year.

“That’s a true asset to our community,” Nicosia said.

Flathead County

The county is also seeing a surge in multi-family housing and, more generally, residential activity. Erik Mack, a planner for the county, said 12 major subdivisions were introduced in both 2017 and 2018, whereas 2014-2016 saw seven at most each year. Six multi-family projects were submitted this year, with four already approved.

“In previous years, it had been one or two multi-family projects a year,” Mack said. “So that’s a pretty big increase.”

The largest multi-family complex calls for four 36-unit apartment buildings, totaling 144 units, on Sager Lane behind Shopko in Evergreen. That project was approved by the county board of adjustment in October.

Also approved in 2018 were four apartment buildings, each with about 10 units, on Jewel Basin Court near Bigfork.

Two single-family residence subdivisions could break ground in Evergreen this year: West Evergreen Estates, a mobile-home development on West Evergreen Drive, and Helena Crossing in Helena Flats. Two more single-family subdivisions — Fox Hill Estates and Whispering Pines Estates — are proposed in the Creston area.

The county is also seeing burgeoning commercial interest in the area directly south of Whitefish.