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  Comments (1) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
Support for Convention Center
Like I Was Sayin...
It’s true. We have been down this road before. A developer or organization proposes a performing arts, convention or town center in the Flathead Valley. And those plans either stall or are scrapped entirely.

In 2008, the Kalispell City Council approved the largest development in the history of Flathead County. Glacier Town Center would have more than doubled the commercial district on the city’s north side.

The size and scope of the proposed development was at once ambitious and staggering. It would be built on 485 acres and include 632 new homes and 1.8 million square feet of retail and commercial space. Construction alone would take 20 years to complete. It hasn’t happened.

That same year, an organization was raising money to build the long-proposed Glacier Performing Arts Center. It would feature a 1,300-seat performance hall, a smaller “black-box” theater and extensive lobby. It’s a great idea and would have filled a need for a larger venue that could attract larger productions. But the fundraising fell short.

In 2011, Kalispell revisited the idea of building some sort of civic center. The council proposed forming a committee to study whether such a project was possible. But the proposal hasn’t made any significant headway since.

The poor economy deserves part of the blame for these projects not breaking ground and there are also real questions as to whether Northwest Montana can support large new developments. But now there is another proposal, and it’s huge, and it’s backed by a private investor.

Late last month, the Flathead County Economic Development Authority and Montana West Economic Development announced that they are partnering with a developer to perform a feasibility study for a potential $70 million resort complex in the Flathead Valley. When the press release landed in my inbox, the sheer size of the project (for comparison’s sake, the new tower at Kalispell Regional Medical Center cost $42 million) prompted me to call MWED to verify that it was real. It was.

The development, which could open as early as 2015, would include a convention center, 150-room hotel, 45,000-square-foot indoor water park, biking and jogging trails and an outdoor ice skating rink. It’s almost hard to fathom a complex of that size, especially after previous stumbles.

The economic development agencies working on the project are clear that it’s not a sure thing and will largely be based on the results of the feasibility study. But if completed, it’s hard to overstate the impact it could have on the area economy.

Restaurants and retailers would reap the benefits of more customers. And while the convention center can accommodate groups of 1,500 and banquets of 2,000 people, the hotel will not hold nearly that many. Those customers will have to find lodging elsewhere.

Part of the study is to determine where this complex will be located and there are concerns over whether one city in the Flathead will end up syphoning business from another. But this region would be far better off selling itself collectively rather than worrying about which part of the valley may benefit more.

Who knows if something like this is even possible, or if this facility will be used enough to make it profitable. The feasibility study should determine both. And, yes, we’ve been down this road before.

But if an investor is willing to make such a large investment in this area, others could follow. And while the area’s economy has slowly improved over the last two years, it is not nearly where it should be. Regardless of where it is built, we need the construction jobs and service jobs. We need more tourists spending more money here. This project deserves support.
On 03-08-13, LogicalOne commented....
Despite my last airport post getting deleted by what I consider too touchy Beacon “civil” enforcement.. (ever watched what your owner, Mr Povich allows on my TV set?) I will say that Kalispell has become a nasty place where the welcome mat is pulled away from any
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