Kalispell Chamber of Commerce to Relocate Amid Depot Park Disturbances

Ongoing disruptions at neighboring downtown Kalispell park have forced chamber officials to lock the building’s doors as they search for a new space to conduct business operations

By Maggie Dresser
The Discover Kalispell Chamber building in Depot Park in Kalispell on Sept. 28, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In response to the increasing volume of disturbances at Depot Park, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and its tourism bureau partner, Discover Kalispell, are in the process of relocating from the city-owned property bordering the public space, citing interactions that continue to disrupt business operations.

The chamber is currently transitioning out of the property next to Depot Park, with some chamber members working remotely while a Discover Kalispell staff member will temporarily use office space at the Flathead Beacon headquarters on Main Street to conduct visitor information services.

As of June 12, some administrative staff members were continuing to work in the Depot Park office with locked doors.

Several chamber members like Big Sky PR and Glacier Bank have offered to share office and conference room space with chamber staff when needed, according to Kalispell Chamber of Commerce CEO Lorraine Clarno.

“The business of the chamber can be done anywhere,” Clarno said. “The chamber is our work product, not the building we are in. We knew we had outgrown our environment in the chamber in 2023 and we are working diligently to find a new location.”

Chamber board members will meet at the end of June to lock down a permanent location in downtown Kalispell.

“We are going to remain in the heart of our community, which is downtown Kalispell,” Clarno said.

As a private business with a public park on the north and south ends of the building, Depot Park has attracted homeless populations in recent years. Clarno said some of the frequent visitors often suffer from mental illness and drug addiction and sometimes seek refuge in the visitor center, prompting staff to lock the doors and call the Kalispell Police Department on a daily basis.

Clarno said the chamber started experiencing frequent disruptions in April when the Flathead Warming Center ended its overnight facility services following the winter months.

“We started experiencing a lot more activity at the park,” Clarno said. “It continued to interrupt our business on a daily basis, and it kept growing. We as staff have tried to manage activity by locking doors and getting help when needed, but we need to take care of the members, staff and visitors. In the last two or three weeks, I had to make the decision to lock the doors permanently until we find a new location.”

While the disruptions have prompted an urgent relocation, Clarno said the chamber had previously been searching for a new building to accommodate their professional needs. For example, the current building next to Depot Park is not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant and Clarno would prefer a one-story facility instead of the current two-stories.

“The staff is separated in two stories and it’s not productive,” Clarno said. “We want to have some room to grow more.”

As the chamber moves forward with a new facility, Clarno said they will continue to spearhead conversations with law enforcement, city and county officials, and service providers to address public safety and provide solutions for vulnerable populations.

“It’s a priority of the chamber to be part of managing the situation,” Clarno said. “I do believe that we can manage it better than we have.”

At a June 5 city council meeting, City Manager Doug Russell mentioned that the Kalispell Police Department could potentially move into the city-owned building next to Depot Park.

Clarno said the chamber has not yet given the city a notice that they are departing.

“It would require much more review and analysis, but I think that it’s a potential option worthy of looking at to address some of the concerns,” Russell said.

Russell also said the city could potentially implement strategies to deter people from congregating in public spaces for prolonged periods of time.

For example, the city could cut off access to water spigots and electricity at the chamber building and on the Parkline Trail. At Lawrence Park, the city previously pruned back shrubs to cut off shade.

Russell said the city is considering retrofitting park benches with a metal bard to dissuade people from sleeping on them.

“Those are things we probably intend on moving forward with,” Russell said.

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