Over the past few years, a lot of money has been invested in this fair city’s “Main Street” — Nucleus Avenue.
In particular, the construction of condos by Mick Ruis and now Bill Goldberg promise to rejuvenate downtown into a walking community, where you can leave your front door and go grocery shopping without ever putting your keys in the ignition. You can bank without getting into a car. You can get a drink, have a meal, buy a gun, workout, drink coffee all without getting into your car. You can even go fly fishing on one of Montana’s pristine rivers without firing up an engine.
It’s exactly the right way to build a city.
The recent response on social media from some critics, however, was baffling. Folks decried that the condos were unaffordable and they should have been long-term rentals. True, some owners will flip them into vacation rentals, but the vacation rental market will fade just as soon as the price of gas goes back up.
Don’t believe me? Look at Glacier Park’s visitation numbers in the years when gas was $4 a gallon.
With more and more hotels going up valleywide, the rental market is sure to reach a saturation point. So I don’t expect them to remain vacation rentals in the longer view.
The affordability factor might be a better argument. Yes, they are a bit expensive. But compared to Whitefish, you get about three times the square footage for about the same price. I’d also submit that views in Columbia Falls are better than Whitefish’s by a long shot.
But these condos were never advertised as “affordable.” Even as rentals, developers said the estimated rent would be at least $1,100 a month and up.
That’s equivalent to a $200,000 mortgage.
But what was more troubling is that people said Columbia Falls is turning into Whitefish. Bah. Columbia Falls is certainly changing and quite frankly, it’s about time.
Was the city center supposed to sport empty storefronts and ugly buildings for eternity? Downtown was literally held hostage by an out-of-town antique dealer who had no intention of spending a nickel in the city for more than a decade.
Bottom line? I welcome the changes to Nucleus. They’ve been needed for a long time. It’s great to see that investors finally see its potential. Our city will be better for it.
Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.