The Columbia Falls city council Monday night approved a zoning change request for the Cedar Palace from light industrial to commercial business, which paves the way for the building to be used as a new medical facility.
The city-county planning board approved the zone change last week.
The Cedar Palace on Twelfth Avenue, as it’s known locally, was the former Plum Creek Timber Co. offices for years. Glacier Medical Associates is planning to buy the building and the surrounding 23 acres from Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek merged in 2016.
Weyerhaeuser shortly thereafter put the building and adjacent lands up for sale. Glacier Medical and OrthoRehab of Columbia Falls are partnering up in the business venture.
Glacier already has offices in Whitefish, but about 50 percent of its employees and about 25 percent of its current patients are from Columbia Falls, Dr. John Kalbfleisch of Glacier Medical told council.
The greater vision is for a full medical facility for Columbia falls, including dentistry, counseling, an eye clinic, speech pathologists and other amenities.
The doctor’s office and physical therapy offices would only take up about three-fourths of the first floor, Kalbfleisch told the planning board last week. The building is large — 35,000 square feet.
They haven’t actually closed the deal with Weyerhaeuser yet — Kalbfleisch said they’re still going through their 30-day due diligence.
The sale also includes a data center formerly used by Plum Creek and a large field. The field could be converted to football, lacrosse and soccer fields, he noted.
In short, the partners look forward to becoming a member of the Columbia Falls community and providing good-paying jobs at the facility.
“We looked around at a lot of properties and this made sense for what we wanted to do,” Kalbfleisch said.
The Cedar Palace is one of the iconic buildings in Columbia Falls. It was built and designed by longtime Columbia Falls’ builder Leonard Knutson and features a window in every office but the one in the middle.
If all goes as planned, the building would go through a remodel this winter and the facility would open this spring, Kalbfleisch said.
Tyler Ladenburg, one of the partners of OrthoRehab, said the building has been a big part of the town’s history and the plan is to keep it a vibrant part of town history.
“As (the city) grows, we want to make sure (medical services) are available in town,” he told the planning board.
The planning board’s main concern was the condition of Twelfth Avenue. After seeing years of heavy truck traffic, the road is in poor condition.
City Manager Susan Nicosia said the road is a top priority for the city to fix.
Resident Brian Domph spoke out against the move, claiming traffic would back up during school hours. Domph is a school bus driver.
But proponents noted that when it was owned by Plum Creek, the office served about 100 employees. There was also substantial traffic from two mills operating nearby — mills that are defunct today.
The project received a ringing endorsement from Mayor Don Barnhart.
“I’m just as excited as all get-out to have this happen,” he said. “Really looking forward to it.”
The building is currently outside the city limits, but will be eventually annexed when it hooks up to city sewer and water services, which are nearby. Right now the building has a well and a septic system.