News & Features

Outlook 2020: Multi-Family Leads the Way for Development

Similar to 2019, apartments and townhomes are expected to be a leading force in the Flathead Valley construction landscape

Continuing a trend over the last year, multi-family housing will once again be a dominant force in new Flathead Valley development in 2020, with hundreds of apartment units expected to be under construction.

In Kalispell alone, roughly 300 multi-family units may be at various stages of progress in the coming year, either breaking ground or carrying over construction from 2019. Later phases of those projects could add hundreds of more units in the coming years. The city has approved over 1,000 multi-family units in recent years.

The multi-family focus highlights communities’ efforts in the valley to address a lack of affordable housing so pronounced that many officials call it a crisis.

To be sure, however, the valley will see its fair share of higher-end residential development as well, including the possibility of a luxury resort on Big Mountain. Single-family residential construction of various price points should be strong as well.

Pillars of the local construction industry in previous years that subsided in 2019 are expected to remain relatively quiet, including public schools. Widespread school projects resulting from nearly $100 million in voter-approved bonds in 2016 and 2017 are either completed or nearing completion in Somers, Kalispell and Whitefish, although Columbia Falls will be moving forward on its $37 million elementary district bond approved by voters in 2019.

Other big-ticket items driving construction in recent years, including health care expansion and retail box stores, have similarly slowed down, with the exception of scattered projects such as the upcoming transformation of Plum Creek Timber Company’s former “Cedar Palace” into a medical campus in Columbia Falls.

Developments along Timberwolf Parkway in Kalispell on Dec. 20, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Kalispell

In the past few years, a series of new developments featuring apartments and townhomes have either been completed, started construction or are about to break ground across the city. There are also subdivisions, including longstanding ones like Silverbrook Estates, that are incorporating multi-family housing — apartments and townhomes — alongside single-family homes.

While city officials anticipated a significant amount of multi-family housing construction in 2019, not all of it came to fruition. Now a number of those approved units are likely to break ground in 2020.

“A lot of what we planned for will actually be constructed this year,” said Kalispell Planning and Zoning Director Jarod Nygren. “It’s in the building permit stages, not just talk anymore.”

Nygren says the first phase of a planned 324-unit apartment complex off Two Mile Drive may begin this winter, while another Two Mile apartment complex — at the intersection with Glenwood Drive — is already under construction, with 48 units to be built in the first phase and more phases coming in the future.

A multi-family project is also underway at the Kalispell North Town Center near the Kalispell Ford dealership, with 24 units going in and three more 24-unit complexes anticipated later. Nygren said there is ongoing conversation about additional commercial development there as well but nothing set in stone.

Additionally, a developer is looking to build 140 multi-family units in the Bloomstone area in north Kalispell off the U.S. Highway 93 bypass. Single-family construction is also continuing in the Bloomstone subdivision.

Silverbrook Estates along U.S. Highway 93 North has been consistently plowing forward in recent years with single-family residences and is now considering multi-family housing as well. It is also seeing increased interest in smaller-scale commercial development, Nygren said, and one project, World Gym, is already complete.

The establishment of Glacier Rail Park, pictured here in Kalispell on Dec. 20, 2019, has cleared the way for the railroad tracks in town to be removed in 2020, opening up burgeoning investment interest along the forthcoming trail corridor. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Other residential construction includes Meadow’s Edge, a sprawling subdivision off Three Mile Drive that is ready to move on to its second phase, with the long-term goal of building 322 single-family and multi-family units. The Northland subdivision south of Kidsports Complex is continuing to add single-family inventory, while Southside Estates off Airport Road is also progressing.

The city is launching a project this year to improve its “malfunction junction” intersection where Airport Road meets First Avenue West and 18th Street East. The project will streamline the intersection, construct a parking lot to be used for Legends Stadium and add sidewalks and bike lanes along Airport Road to Rankin Elementary School.

“It’s a great multifaceted project with lots of pedestrian connectivity and a bicycle component,” Nygren said.

In north Kalispell, much of the commercial activity over the last year and into the new year is centered around the Treeline Road area and across the bypass along Timberwolf Parkway, where new offices have been recently completed and others are under construction.

The removal of the railroad tracks in 2020, to be replaced with the Kalispell Trail, is anticipated to dramatically alter the city’s development landscape, according to city officials and representatives from Montana West Economic Development. SunRift Beer Co. is expanding into a restaurant in anticipation of the new trail, while two other projects were recently announced along the trail corridor.

The other part of the trail project, the Glacier Rail Park, recently secured a letter of intent from Northern Plastics to fill up its available space, a faster timeline than expected.

“That’s huge for the rail park to already be full,” Nygren said.

Whitefish

The Beacon went to print before the city had year-end numbers finalized, but signs were pointing to a record-breaking or near record-breaking year in construction in 2019, with a robust mix of commercial and residential.

The year’s biggest project was the 92,500-square-foot Muldown Elementary School, which is scheduled to welcome students when the new school year begins this fall. While there aren’t any similarly large-scale projects in the pipeline for 2020, Whitefish Planning and Building Director Dave Taylor said “you never know what’s going to walk through the door.”

Residential should continue to see a mix of multi-family and single-family construction.

“We expect residential construction to remain steady,” Taylor said. “It’s been steady for us for the last five or six years.”

There has been particular interest in multi-family construction over the last couple of years, with some projects coming to fruition and others, such as a 234-apartment complex at the old North Valley Hospital site, yet to break ground.

“That’s definitely the newest trend in construction,” Taylor said of multi-family, which is a tool communities and developers can use in their efforts to address affordable housing gaps.

Alta Views, a townhome development near the current North Valley Hospital, has been steadily adding units and plans to continue doing so through 2020. Farther north along Wisconsin Avenue, The Quarry condominium development is moving forward, with plans to build a clubhouse, administrative building, maintenance building, amenities and 102 units broken down into 66 condo homes and two 18-plex multi-family condos.

The first phase of the Trailview Homes development in Whitefish on Dec. 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Trailview Homes, a 58-unit affordable housing development, celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony in November for its first phase. The development aims to help address the city’s affordable-housing shortage by constructing single-family residences priced for workforce accessibility with a variety of amenities, including two-car garages.

A 38-unit affordable apartment complex on Edgewood Place called Alpenglow Apartments has also broken ground.

There are a handful of smaller-scale commercial projects in the works, including a car wash and potentially a Starbucks.

Taylor said one new trend is increasing interest from national investors, including out-of-state real estate consortiums. On Big Mountain, Canadian developers have proposed the construction of a luxury condominium resort at the site of the former Alpinglow Inn.

Columbia Falls

The city’s downtown core has transformed in recent years, while other areas in town have witnessed growth in single-family and multi-family construction, most notably with The Highline Apartments. That complex, along Bills Lane, unveiled its first 72 pet-friendly apartments in September and is moving on to its second phase. Altogether, there will be 216 “workforce housing” apartments when completed.

There are also two multi-housing complexes with six units apiece under construction on Diane Road, with another lot approved for an addition 12-plex.

City Manager Susan Nicosia said in October the city also approved a 48-lot residential subdivision on 55 acres off U.S. Highway 2 and Rogers Road. The project hasn’t gone to final plat yet but would be a major single-family development for the town.

Mick Ruis, a developer who is responsible for much of the city’s downtown transformation along with Bill Goldberg, has submitted preliminary plans to redevelop a block he owns that currently houses the old Citizens Bank. Plans would likely include a mixture of commercial and residential development, similar to other Nucleus Avenue projects in recent years.

“Mick and his team are looking at the best and highest use of that land,” Nicosia said. “He’s thoroughly evaluating it.”

Nicosia said construction in general has been “very steady” in the city and that there are other potential projects she’s heard about that haven’t brought forth applications yet.

One major project is funded by the school bond voters approved in October, which will build a new elementary school, remodel and expand the city’s other elementary school and fund other updates in the district. Another larger undertaking is occurring at Plum Creek’s former administrative building, with Glacier Medical Associates and OrthoRehab Physicial Therapy purchasing the building and planning to turn into a medical-services complex.

Nicosia also notes that the city’s industrial park has 90 acres listed for sale.

“Hopefully we’ll see some industrial activity as well,” she said.

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