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Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment
Kalispell, Montana
September 2015-May 2016
Flathead County Economic Development Authority
in partnership with the City of Kalispell

Challenge:  The Kalispell Core & Rail Redevelopment is the largest urban renewal project in Flathead County’s history. In 2015, it faced significant challenges with a local business attempting to derail the project. The local business felt the project was a boondoggle and wrote a letter to Senator Tester urging him to drop his support for it, which, up to that time, had had a strong TIGER Grant application. The situation came to a head in the Fall of 2015 with that letter to Senator Tester.  FCEDA leadership was already struggling to address the issues with the dissenting business owner and it now faced public scrutiny and concern as well as the possible loss of a key grant. Rumblings around the community began and a project that had been a darling of the community was suddenly cast in shadows. FCEDA realized it needed to act quickly in order to repair damage and rebuild positive public perception.  

Approach: Big Sky Public Relations was contracted to manage the project’s image and communications, improve community understanding and dispel misinformation. Our firm has successfully employed multiple methods to launch a complex public relations campaign, starting with research and listening. The goal of this first step was to ensure that we fully understood the scope of concerns and misinformation circulating in the community. The listening period included deep-dive planning with the FCEDA team as well as community influencer research and interviews. Upon completion of these listening sessions, Big Sky Public Relations was able to develop cohesive branding and messaging, which was then used to develop a website targeted to key user groups.  Influencer articles were ghostwritten by our team and circulated, addressing major misconceptions and touting benefits of the project; education materials to build understanding were created. We also helped form a proactive earned media outreach that secured positive, on-message coverage for the project.

Results: Within a few months of the campaign’s launch, numerous positive news stories were garnered for the project. Quality conversations with key stakeholders were held and concerns began to die down. Equally important, a new CEO at FCEDA took the helm within the next year and was able to broker a deal with the business owner in question, making it viable for the business to move to the rail park. The Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment regained its place as a community connector, leaving behind the divisiveness experienced in the Fall of 2015. The project is currently “back on track,” building community support and moving rapidly toward implementation. The rail park is fully constructed, and the downtown railroad tracks are scheduled for removal in the spring of 2021, to be replaced by an urban trail. Mostly importantly, the community is united in its support and excitedly anticipating its new trail through downtown Kalispell.

What our clients say: “Big Sky PR has been an important part of FCEDA’s strategy to inform the public of our activities and the Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment project.  They have assisted by providing creative ideas on educating the public on our role in the community and have been terrific at managing that process from beginning to end.  I completely depend on this team to keep us on task, on time and on budget, and they haven’t let me down.  I would recommend Big Sky PR to any organization that wants to maximize their media coverage and public exposure and which needs assistance on both the creative and day-to-day management pieces of that objective.”
 - Kim Morisaki, Business Development and Marketing Director for FCEDA
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