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City councilors stress patience on hotel deal

BEMIDJI –As construction on a planned Sanford Center-attached hotel remains on hold, city councilors are staying patient – for the most part

.In a work session last week, one of the developers for the proposed Country Inn and Suites reassured the council that progress is being made. He also said he was confident the loan would be finalized within 90 days, with construction starting soon after. 

Since that meeting with Wayzata-based Bay Ridge Properties chief operating officer Lee Fundanet, city councilors and staff have expressed confidence that the hotel would be built, even if it was behind the original schedule. 

Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson noted that a marketing study didn’t figure a hotel would be constructed within the first five years of the Sanford Center being built, putting this project ahead of that schedule. He said he also was encouraged by Fundanet saying that the steel for the hotel and attached restaurant already is on hand.

Johnson added the deal is a bit more complicated considering the attachment from the Sanford Center to the hotel will be city-owned.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of if but really more of when,” Johnson said of construction beginning.

Originally, project developers planned to start construction last spring but shovels have yet to get in the ground.

During a Jan. 14 city council work session, Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel said a project of this size and importance to the city’s future south shore development area takes time.

He said on Monday that he was confident it would happen.

“I think that given both the developer and the bank are comfortable with a 90-day window gives me some added confidence that we’ll see some development or solutions within the next 90 days,” Hengel said.

He added that hotel development has been slow across Minnesota.

However, some councilors said they may have to evaluate the project’s status if progress isn’t made soon.

“I guess we could patient,” said Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist. “But I think that if he doesn’t prove up real soon, we need to search for another potential buyer for that property.”

Ward 5 Councilor Nancy Erickson said she may begin to question the project if it’s delayed further after the 90 days, but added she was impressed with Fundanet’s presentation.

“I don’t think he was stalling for time or trying to give the council false hope,” Erickson said.

Mayor Rita Albrecht said she didn’t want to speculate on what would happen if progress isn’t made and reiterated her confidence in the project. She noted that one major challenge in getting the funding in place is that the loan is coming from several different banks.

“We think it’s a good project,” Albrecht said.

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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