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Debut for the DoubleTree: New hotel plans October opening

Local hospitality mogul Rich Siegert stands on a fourth-floor balcony at his new Bemidji Hilton DoubleTree hotel overlooking Lake Bemidji. Plans are to open the hotel in October. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Little by little, the construction of the new Hilton DoubleTree hotel is nearing completion; a new sign was added Tuesday with an expected opening in October. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 2 / 2

Zach Kayser

BEMIDJI — It seemed highly apropos that staff were preparing a Great Gatsby-themed party for the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce in the Hampton Inn next door as local hospitality mogul Rich Siegert gave a tour of the brand new Hilton DoubleTree hotel opening next month on Lake Bemidji’s south shore. If a spectral F. Scott Fitzgerald were to take a drive up to Bemidji from the Twin Cities, he might very well be inspired by the grandeur of the area’s first "full service" hotel.

Fifty-five of the hotel’s 92 rooms look out onto the lake, and if guests glance to their left when standing on one of the patios facing the lake, they’ll see the building’s northern edge curves with the lakeshore so their view of the city isn’t blocked. As a full service hotel, there will be room service in the mornings and afternoons, and a chef can even come to the room to make your meal if you request. Before the hotel opens in October, staff will be tested for efficiency by representatives from Hilton headquarters.

"You’ll find the standards … are a little bit higher than you’ll find in a lot of hotels," Siegert said.

All of that opulence isn’t easy to create. Siegert said while a final cost for the project hasn’t been arrived at yet, "it’ll easily exceed $10 million." He readily admits the project fell behind schedule as builders struggled to find enough steel and construction workers. The hotel was initially planned to open in January of this year, but a ribbon-cutting is scheduled for mid-October and a larger grand opening for later in the month.

Siegert didn’t directly blame the North Dakota oil boom for diverting materials and workers from his project, but he did mention the possibility.

"A lot of people went to North Dakota, and if they made more money … I don’t blame them," he said. "They’ve got to make a living, too."

When it’s finally done, the new hotel help draw conventions and groups to Bemidji, as well as house them once they get here, Siegert said. But the hotel will also help attract long-term residents to the city, he said.

"(More) businesses are interested too, and I think it’ll help contribute a lot to the university," he said. "It impresses faculty, it impresses people coming in for interviews; looking for jobs. It’s like having brand new schools in town, nice universities, nice facilities, nice stores, nice hotels for them to stay."

Rapidly fluctuating room prices in the market made it difficult for Siegert to give out a precise cost-per-night, but he said it would probably be somewhere close to the $110-$250 range. He added that rates for the DoubleTree would be relatively low starting out because the hotel was opening in the off-season.

Denelle Hilliard of Visit Bemidji Convention and Visitors Bureau said the new hotel’s status as full-service would be helpful in attracting more affluent visitors to the area. Siegert’s DoubleTree will help Bemidji compete with high-class hotels in the Twin Cities, she said.

"It’s a very elite hotel to have in Bemidji, so we’re excited to help market the DoubleTree," she said.

Even with the new DoubleTree, there’s still plenty of room for future additions to the hotel market in Bemidji, Hilliard said. She said there are about 600-700 hotel rooms in the Bemidji area not counting resorts, meaning there would be about 350 rooms available if area hotels were at 50 percent occupancy. In 2014, the south shore will see yet another new hotel. Groundbreaking was recently held for the Country Inn and Suites, which will be connected to the Sanford Center.

During peak tourist season, hotel occupancy is at 80 to 90 percent based on twice-a-week measurements taken by the Chamber of Commerce, she said.

Hilliard said Visit Bemidji is almost entirely funded by a 3 percent lodging tax.

While Siegert was optimistic the new DoubleTree would do well, he said it would take until 2014 to get a true sense of the project’s success.

"We won’t know what it really means until we get the customer responses and see what kind of revenue we make out of this thing," he said. "It’ll take probably until next summer before this thing ramps up and gets going full speed ahead."