The malling of Kalispell 

It might be ground zero in the largest land-use debate dividing residents of the Flathead, but the 481 acres of rolling farm land just north of the Stillwater River sure is a quiet place. The neighbors like it that way. Those who bought homes in the pricey subdivisions nearby figured the open space out their back doors would be developed some day. They just didn’t expect their new neighbor to be the largest mall in Montana.

Since 1990, a plan to build a golf course, residential units and some commercial buildings has gathered dust. All the while, developer James “Bucky” Wolford insists the Flathead’s appetite for retail shopping has become so ravenous that 1,085,000 square-feet of new retail space is needed to accommodate it.

That’s one point of view. Here’s another: The Flathead already has the Kalispell Center Mall and it doesn’t need a new one—complete with its own water treatment plant—stuck in a giant field that was supposed to become a golf course. At least, that’s the message coming from Sharon DeMeester, a founding member of a new anti-mall contingent called North 93 Neighbors.

“We wouldn’t have spent money on our homes had we known there was going to be a mall and sewage treatment plant,” says DeMeester, whose group joins several camps of mall opponents. Downtown merchants were among the first to oppose the sprawling project on the edge of Kalispell. Along with individual shop owners and landlords, the downtown crusade against the mall now includes a renewed effort by WestCoast Hospitality Corporation, which owns the Kalispell Center Mall.

The Spokane-based company has made recent progress toward expanding its 18-year-old mall in downtown Kalispell. Now, says WestCoast President and CEO Art Coffey, it’s a race to finalize plans to rip out railroad tracks next-door and secure at least one new anchor store. Might it be a Nordstrom or a Dillard’s? Coffey won’t say, but it’s clear that WestCoast wants to steal Wolford Development’s thunder by making downtown Kalispell mall central.

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