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South shore hotel developer reassures Bemidji City Council

BEMIDJI – A proposal to build a hotel and restaurant next to the Sanford Center was accepted more than a year ago, but shovels have yet to go into the ground.

That delay has prompted some concern on the Bemidji City Council. One of the partners in the company developing that project made a trip to Bemidji Monday night during a work session to reassure city staff and councilors that the project is moving forward.

“We really haven’t been in a mindset that it wouldn’t happen,” said Lee Fundanet, chief operating officer of Wayzata-based Bay Ridge Properties International.

Construction on the Country Inn & Suites and attached restaurant was originally expected to begin in spring 2012 after the proposal was accepted in December 2011. Tripp Snyder, CEO of Bay Ridge Properties, bought 2.17 acres of land from the city for $756,202 in March 2012 to build the hotel, which will be attached to the Sanford Center.

Since then, construction has been delayed. Snyder told the Pioneer in November that starting construction in mid-December was “doable.” Fundanet indicated Monday that much of the delay has been getting the financing lined up with the banks.

Fundanet told the council Monday that he “can confidently say a 90-day window is attainable” to have the loan finalized. Construction would begin soon afterward.

Fundanet said they have already ordered the steel for the project, which City Councilor Ron Johnson said was encouraging.

The hotel was originally slated to include a Buffalo Wild Wings attached but switched to a Crooked Pint Ale House. Fundanet said Monday that a Cowboy Jack’s, a chain that specializes in burgers and chicken wings, will be built instead.

Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, said during the meeting that a project of this size – a $16.5 million investment according to Fundanet – takes time. Hengel said that the banker involved in the project said it may be the largest private investment in Bemidji in recent history.

However, Hengel acknowledged that there has been some frustration with the delays.

“I think it’s always a concern when things drag out,” City Manager John Chattin said. “You wonder ‘Well, have we hitched our horse to the wrong wagon?...’ I think we just wanted some reassurance that ‘Yeah, it is moving forward, we are going to be getting in the ground.’”

Overall, however, the council seemed satisfied with Fundanet’s report, with Mayor Rita Albrecht saying she was “confident” in the developer.

Other actions:

--The council heard a presentation from Hengel and Aaron Chirpich of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission on a work plan for future development on the rail corridor.

The city owns about a dozen acres on the south end of downtown. Check Wednesday’s Pioneer for more details on that work plan.

--The council also developed questions to ask of the candidates for the vacant Ward 4 City Council position.

The candidates will be asked to discuss why they want to serve on the council, their current civic involvement, strengths they bring to the council, what they would like to accomplish and how they would work with city staff.

--Councilors discussed what issues they would like to bring down to St. Paul on Feb. 6 for Bemidji Day at the Capitol.

Among those issues are a potential hospitality tax to help pay for Sanford Center operations, a fire protection fee for the proposed fire district in the Bemidji area, and a veterans home in Bemidji.

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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