City planners release strategy for future

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City planners have created an image of downtown Kalispell as a destination rather than something to “pass through” in a 61-page document that gives a glimpse of what the city’s heart could look like by 2035.

The plan includes ideas like reducing downtown streets, enlarging sidewalks and bringing some more life to the city — from updating liquor laws to reinvesting in decor.

“This really isn’t our plan,” said Planning and Building Director Tom Jentz. “We’ve captured the sentiment of the downtown and are carrying that forward.”

For two years, city planners sought advice of residents and businesses to create what they call Kalispell’s Downtown Plan. In that time, they interviewed more than 100 people within the downtown boundary to see what should be done for its future and what might be standing in its way.

“Without a visionary plan set in place, complacency tends to take over and identity can be lost,” the document states. “Having a plan in place puts the Downtown in control of its future.”

In the document, city planners wrote that Kalispell’s downtown acts as “a pass-through at near highway speeds.” The plan seeks to restore Kalispell to its roots as a place where people want to spend time.

Jentz said the Planning Board is due to hold a public hearing on the vision during its Aug. 8 meeting. After that, the city council will hold a public hearing as a step in deciding whether the revitalization draft will become a blueprint.

ON THE third page of the document is an image of the downtown in 1940s. The sidewalks are packed with shoppers and most parking spaces are filled with cars as some people chat in the street. Signs like “W.G. Woodward Co.” are seen as far as the photo captures.

“The purpose of mainstreet needs to be restored,” the document states.

As part of that plan, the document states that Main Street needs to go on a “road diet” and return to three lanes as it was in the 1940’s. The draft includes one traffic lane in each direction and a center lane for turning.

The draft also widens sidewalks by 6 feet, for a total width of 16 feet. Wider sidewalks create opportunities for outdoor eating areas, shop displays, landscaping, benches and bike racks.

The plan states current state liquor laws are limiting restaurant and entertainment activity in downtown Kalispell. According to the document, the city needs to look into new state laws that allow an increase in restaurant-directed liquor licenses, so downtown can “foster an entertainment culture.”

Other plans include developing a landscaped median on Main Street from 8th and 6th street, possibly creating a performing arts center as well as a parking structure.

Hans Axelsen, shop manager at Wheaton’s Cycle, said in recent years, he’s watched downtown Kalispell start to refill with unique shops visitors hope to see in a historic city.

He listed arrivals like Kalispell Brewing Co., The Toggery, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream and Blue Samurai Sushi Bar and Grill.

“That’s a pretty hip block all of a sudden, that’s where the flavor of downtown will be,” he said.

Axelsen said as someone who has lived and worked in Kalispell for 12 years, it’s a change he’s been waiting for and believed could happen. But he said there’s still more to be done, as he listed unused lots and a lack of space for pedestrians and bikers around the city’s core.

“Plans like this could really change the face of downtown in an exciting way,” Axelsen said.

THE DOWNTOWN Plan is just the latest effort coming to a head for Kalispell.

The draft follows the city’s recent completion of the U.S. 93 Bypass Route, which was first envisioned in 1991 as an effort to reduce truck traffic and excess through traffic along the Main Street. Montana Department of Transportation projections show that by 2035, the bypass could carry 18,000 to 20,000 vehicles a day, relieving congestion on Main Street.

Just last week, city officials announced they had completed the last requirement needed to receive a $10 million federal grant toward construction of a rail park. The project is part of an effort to remove the railroad tracks from Kalispell’s downtown, reconnect disjointed streets and build a pathway system linking pedestrians to shops and parks.

Jentz said looking toward revitalizing downtown was a promise city staffers made to residents as they continued to improve Kalispell.

For the full version of the downtown plan, visit http://kalispell.com/community_economic_development/documents/CityofKalispell-TheDowntownPlan.pdf.

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at khoughton@dailyinterlake.com.

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