Council OK's Nucleus project

| September 10, 2020 12:00 AM

The Columbia Falls city council Tuesday night approved a revised planned unit development for the city square owned by developer Mick Ruis.

Originally Ruis and his designers planned to build two buildings on land that used to be the home of First Citizens Bank and is now Hellroaring Fitness. That project included a pool and an extensive fitness center, all of which became economically unfeasible during the coronavirus pandemic.

So it was back to the proverbial drawing board, with a scaled down-project that includes a revised north building and no south building.

The plan will also eventually remodel the Hellroaring Fitness Building.

The new north building does away with the gym and pool and replaces them with 18 studio and/or one bedroom apartments on the first floor on the west side of the building and 30 two-bedroom units spread out on the second and third floors, for 48 units total.

The east end of the building, which will face Nucleus Avenue, will have 7,500 square feet of commercial space.

The project will include about 70 parking spots as well. They were considering underground parking, architect Aaron Wallace of Montana Creative told the council, but the pilings alone were going to cost about $500,000.

Instead, the project will likely just tear down the old office buildings to the east and use that area for parking.

According to the zoning, Ruis isn’t required to provide any parking, but as with most projects he’s built in downtown, he’s provided it anyway.

Ruis has done several projects in the past few years in Columbia Falls, including the Cedar Creek Lodge, the remodel of the old Park Mercantile building, a new condo project next to the Columbia Bar and the tear down and construction of new apartments on the former Davall Building site.

Those properties were largely eyesores before he purchased and renovated them. He’s also currently remodeling the old union hall across from Columbia Falls city hall.

One person from the public spoke on the development. Longtime real estate broker and city resident Karl Sorenson said he had reservations about that many nightly rentals in downtown.

Under the zoning, vacation rentals would be allowed for the units, which will be sold to individual buyers.

Sorenson said the city needed more permanent housing.

But Mayor Don Barnhart noted that the city has done just that — the new Highline Apartments off Bills Lane are all longterm rentals. That project includes 180 apartments and was recently completed.

Council’s vote to approve the project was unanimous, with councilwoman Paula Robinson absent.

Contacted after the meeting, Ruis said he expects to break ground next February or March, depending on the weather.

The union hall remodel should be done in a couple of months, he said. The project was waiting on materials that have been delayed due to coronavirus having an impact on supplies.