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Hotel financing secured

BEMIDJI - The wait is over.

The developers of a proposed Country Inn & Suites connected to the Sanford Center said they have secured the financing necessary to complete the $15 million project on the city's south shore. Tripp Snyder, chief executive officer of Wayzata-based Bay Ridge Properties International, informed the Bemidji City Council of the long-awaited news Monday night.

"We are extremely pleased to inform the council that after only 18 months of working on it, all of the financing for the Country Inn & Suites project has been approved," Snyder said with tongue in cheek.

Snyder said they could close on the city-owned land on the west side of the Sanford Center by Friday, with construction potentially beginning within two weeks. The 121-unit, four-story hotel would be completed in eight to nine months, Snyder said, and the connected Cowboy Jack's restaurant could be open four to five months after construction starts.

"It will take them a couple of weeks probably to mobilize," Snyder said of their general contractor Kraus-Anderson.

Snyder said final approval from the south shore design review committee and some additional paperwork also remain. But Monday's announcement was a major step forward for the project, which had been stalled while the developers worked to line up loans and other financing.

Snyder originally agreed to buy the 2.17 acres for $756,000, with a $100,000 down payment, in March 2012. He said at that time construction could begin soon afterward.

But more than a year later, with shovels still not in the ground, the council gave Bay Ridge 90 days in April to secure their finances in exchange for $50,000. Monday was their deadline.

When they do close on the land, Bay Ridge will pay the city about $600,000, city manager John Chattin said.

"I'd like to thank all of you for sticking through this process during the entire time that it's taken," Snyder told councilors, some of whom weren't on the council when the hotel was first being proposed.

Mayor Rita Albrecht said at times the process had been "frustrating," but was satisfied the city stuck with the project.

Councilors and development officials have said the attached hotel would be a boon to conferences at the Sanford Center and future development on the south shore.

"We've been agreement that (the hotel) is the catalyst," Councilor Ron Johnson said. He said recent housing developments councilors approved for the south shore are good projects, "but nothing brings more food establishments than a hotel."

Councilor Nancy Erickson used one word to describe Monday's news: "Exciting."

"It's all good news," Councilor Roger Hellquist said.

AIS funding

City councilors questioned a funding request from the Friends of Lake Bemidji for boat inspections at public accesses.

The group came to the council asking for $10,000 of their $20,000 fundraising goal to hire more inspectors in the fight against aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels. Syd Corrigan of the Friends of Lake Bemidji said the city benefits from having recreation available on the lake, which drives tourists to town.

Currently, there are 10 hours of inspections at the three water accesses on Lake Bemidji per week, according to a handout provided by the group.

While city councilors acknowledged that AIS is a looming problem, they questioned the amount requested.

"More than 50 percent of the shoreline of Lake Bemidji is outside of city limits," Hellquist said. He said the fight against AIS, an "immense" problem, needs to be a comprehensive effort at the state level. "I think the least amount of involvement comes from the city on this."

The funding request was for 2014, and Albrecht said they would need to discuss it before adding it to next year's budget.

Hearing rescheduled

City councilors, meeting as the Bemidji Economic Development Authority, followed city attorney Al Felix's recommendation that they reschedule a south shore land sale public hearing.

The hearing regarding the plot of land slated for apartments that was originally scheduled for Monday now will be held Aug. 5. Felix said they are finalizing the purchase agreement with the developer, Grand Forks, N.D.-based Northridge Hospitality Management.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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