A downtown business coalition backs park improvements

During a Business Improvement District meeting on Thursday, downtown commercial property owners voiced their support for the upcoming park ordinances in Kalispell, but also noted that more work needs to be done.

Residents of Kalispell, many of whom own nearby properties, have complained to city officials about the presence of homeless people and reported disturbing or illegal behaviour occurring in the downtown Depot Park gazebo.

In response to the complaints, the city closed the structure last month and is now working on a set of regulations that would limit the amount of private property people can keep in public parks, prohibit the construction of structures within parks, and set time limits on how long people can spend in covered park facilities like gazebos without a special permit.

President of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce Lorraine Clarno characterised the ordinances as crucial for protecting public access to parks, but she emphasised that they were not intended to address the city’s increasing homelessness crisis.

The City Council has done an amazing job, and for that I am extremely grateful,” Clarno said. She said the laws were just “kicking the can down the road.”

Main Street Bias Brewing owner Gabe Mariman said, "We're not fixing any problem, we're just moving it."

Main Street Bias Brewing owner Gabe Mariman said, “We’re not fixing any problem, we’re just moving it.”

Chamber employees have seen fewer homeless people in the park and have only made two calls to police since the gazebo was closed, according to Clarno.

The issue has been relocated, she said.

As warmer temperatures melt snow in the park, Clarno and her team have found human waste and needles, prompting the chamber to purchase sharps disposal containers.

Pam Carbonari, executive director of the Business Improvement District, has stated that more needs to be done to maintain the downtown’s attractiveness to business owners and customers.

Carbonari said of downtown homelessness, “This is going to grow.” Businesses will leave downtown if we don’t show strength.

Kisa Davison, a member of the board and the owner of Straight Blast Gym, said she has instructed staff to ask homeless people looking for shelter or a restroom to leave, and has provided them with the non-emergency police dispatch number. Davison hoped to disseminate this data to other companies via flyers and postcards, perhaps written in collaboration with the Kalispell Police Department.

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The meeting also discussed expanding security camera surveillance with a matching financing scheme if business owners agreed to share the footage with law enforcement, and hiring private security to patrol the downtown core area.

At the City Council’s work session on January 23, members of the public voiced their desire for a public restroom facility to reduce the amount of cleaning that police, chamber employees, and others must do. Davison mentioned that last summer it became difficult to close the existing Depot Park restrooms because homeless people were misusing them and sleeping there.

Participants at Thursday’s meeting believed that funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment programmes at the county and state levels was the first step towards a solution.

Clarno remarked that people should inquire of their commissioners about the whereabouts of public health budgets.

In addition, Mariman reported at the meeting that the recent Frosty the Brewfest event was a success in terms of fundraising for the local nonprofit Samaritan House, with 40% of over $25,000 raised being donated directly to the homeless shelter.

The ordinances were approved by council on Monday, and if they pass a second reading at their next meeting, they will enter into force 30 days after that.

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