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Pioneer Editorial: South shore development can benefit businesses, city

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The development of the south shore along Lake Bemidji has been a hot topic of late.

And it always seems to generate some buzz.

First, there was news there would be a new apartment building planned for the south shore. The Grand Forks-based developer says it plans to build 50 to 60 units and that the mix of efficiency, two- and three-bedroom units would appeal to young professionals and families.

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Second, there was the buzz, and we do mean buZZ, when longtime, popular eatery Zorbaz on the Lake came back to pitch a plan to open a location in Bemidji. This is the second time Zorbaz has floated the idea of opening a lakeside restaurant. The first attempt several years back was thwarted, in part, because of the then 1 a.m. bar closing time. This plan failed simply because of money.

The city, having purchased some south shore land and paying for it with bonds, needs to get a decent return on investment to cover those bonds. But like any real estate move, you can fall victim to the market. If there's no interest in the land, the price drops. Zorbaz is a smart company and has added strategic locations over the years in resort/tourism towns just like Bemidji. Seems like a perfect marriage. But, Zorbaz' offer and timeline for payment for the land wasn't near what city leaders wanted, so the deal fell through.

In this case, both sides did what's expected: Zorbaz wanted to test the market and see where Bemidji was at in terms of its need sell the land. And the city did the right thing by protecting its investment and not simply unloading for a cheap price with the hope something else pays off in the future. Is Zorbaz the catalyst for south shore development, and therefore, in line for a less-costly, deferred land deal? Possibly, but the city is right in protecting its investment.

Third, and another possible catalyst for south shore development, is the new Country Inn & Suites expected to be built adjacent to the Sanford Center. Landing a connected hotel to the Sanford Center is a big boon, allowing the center to better compete in the conferences, trade shows, etc., market. The concert industry has been fickle for well over the past decade, so event centers need to make their hay with the "meat and potatoes" type of events, such as conferences and gatherings for state and regional groups.

A similar situation arose in Grand Forks a few years back with the city-owned Alerus Center. After opening with a splash with several high-profile shows, the center eventually hit a rut, which was a drain on the center's, and ultimately, the city's finances. But after the city and the local economic development group worked out a deal to bring a Canad Inns hotel connected to the Alerus, the center began to rebound, attracting new events. That, in turn, led to more interest in the surrounding property. Now, several additional hotels, as well as retail businesses and office space, are located around the Alerus Center.

That old real estate adage is playing out: location, location, location. And the city of Bemidji should be ready to benefit.

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