The Flathead County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) is seeking a new tenant for the Gateway West Mall, a large, multi-use space in west Kalispell that the development authority has owned a piece of since 1999. The departure earlier this year of inbound call center Teletech, now called TTEC, left the 63,000-square-foot property vacant.
As FCEDA considers options for new tenants, local economic leaders described the vacancy as an exciting opportunity for economic development in the Flathead Valley.
FCEDA first purchased a portion of the Gateway West Mall in 1999 in partnership with the City of Kalispell, securing a 10-year commitment from inbound call center Stream International to lease the space.
“There was a point in time where we had too many people and not enough jobs, and that space was developed to create jobs and training opportunities for people in the valley,” said Jason Spring, FCEDA board member and vice president at the healthcare company Vizient, describing a goal that was realized through the agreement with Stream.
Throughout its time in the Flathead Valley, Stream employed and provided customer service training to 2,660 people in Kalispell, contributing $8.5 million in payroll to the local economy, according to FCEDA.
However, citing economic turndown in the telecommunications and computer networking sectors, Stream prematurely broke its agreement with the city and FCEDA in July 2003, shutting down its Kalispell operation. The closure, which was accompanied by widespread layoffs, prompted frustration in the Flathead Valley as the city of Kalispell had offered the company a $4 million incentive package to set up shop in town. The incentive package included an agreement that allowed Stream to rent the space for free, so long as they generated at least 500 jobs and completed agreed upon capital improvements. The company ultimately carried out $3 million in upgrades while located in the Gateway West facility.
After the Stream closure, the telecommunications company agreed to pay $1.3 million to buy out the remainder of the lease.
In the fall of 2004, shortly after Stream moved out, TTEC moved in. TTEC’s Kalispell operation began with about 200 employees, which rose to over 500 by 2009. In 2013, the city of Kalispell fully transferred its ownership in the property to FCEDA, as well as its obligations in the TTEC lease. TTEC continued to run a major operation out of the Gateway West facility until the COVID-19 pandemic transitioned many of the company’s employees to remote work. TTEC did not renew its lease on the space last spring.
Christy Cummings Dawson, president and CEO of Montana West Economic Development, a private nonprofit that provides management and administrative services to FCEDA, called TTEC’s employees “fantastic partners and great tenants.”
Separate from FCEDA’s portion of the mall, the Gateway West facility is home to the Gateway Community Center, a piece of the facility owned by Northwest Montana United Way that hosts a variety of nonprofit organizations. The Flathead Food Bank also owns a small portion of the mall, which it purchased in December 2020.
With the loss of TTEC, FCEDA is looking ahead to the future of the facility, which board members say presents an exciting opportunity for businesses and organizations looking for a new space. FCEDA board chair Jeannie Luckey said the facility’s kitchens, bathrooms and meeting rooms were recently renovated. Luckey said FCEDA is “open to a lot of things,” and would be interested in working with a wide range of companies and nonprofits to find the best fit for the mall.
Luckey emphasized FCEDA’s role in local development and explained that once a tenant is found, funds from the sale of the Gateway West facility will go towards a project to help bolster the area’s economy. Previously, FCEDA partnered with Glacier Airport Enhancement and Retention Outreach (AERO) to secure new direct flights to Kalispell, supported expansion assistance for small businesses, created the Glacier Rail Park in northeast Kalispell and helped to clean up and resell prime properties in Kalispell’s downtown core.
“Our goal is to help the county and to facilitate things that are going to enhance the community,” Luckey said. “We have our eye on the ball on a lot of different things.”
Business owners and nonprofit leaders who may be interested in the space can reach out to Christy Cummings Dawson at [email protected].
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