“This is transformational for the city of Kalispell,” said Kalispell City Planner Tom Jentz.
The project includes the construction of an industrial rail park at the site of the former McElroy & Wilkin gravel pit in Evergreen. Kalispell city planners say the Flathead County Economic Development Authority will build the rail park. They say it’s significant because it will draw more industrial businesses to the area.
“It will allow Kalispell and the larger community to diversify,” said Katharine Thompson, the community development manager for the city of Kalispell. Thompson has worked on the project from the beginning and says this is the last news she was expecting Monday morning.
The project also includes the Downtown Kalispell Core Area Redevelopment Plan. The plan details the removal of 120-year-old railroad tracks from around the city. Jentz says the tracks are suffocating area businesses.
“That track,” he said, “is a blighting influence right now. It’s not the asset that it was 100 years ago. It’s turned just the opposite.”
The tracks are essentially blocking access to perfectly good space. Taking them out would open up more property for retail and business opportunity. Jentz says the mall owns property the tracks are sitting on and it could have the opportunity to expand if they weren’t in the way.
A biking and walking trail is planned for some of the area where tracks are currently sitting. Thompson says it should improve walkability and pedestrian safety throughout the city.
“This absolutely is a catalyst for Kalispell in the next 100 years,” she said.
In a press release issued Monday morning, Sen. Steve Daines said, “The broad support for this project and tireless work from local officials and businesses helped propel it through an extremely competitive grant process. I look forward to seeing this project get off the ground and bring new improvements to downtown Kalispell.”
In June, Daines sent a letter in support of the grant to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation.
Thompson expects the project to be completed in five years, with construction beginning as early as this spring. The $11 million not covered by TIGER is made up of funds from the city, Flathead County, BNSF and Mission Mountain Railroad.