|By Bethany Wesley, The Bemidji Pioneer,
Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 01, 2012--Tripp Snyder almost didn't come to Bemidji. R.S. Tripp Snyder, the founder of Twin Cities-based Snyder & Associates, had been invited to a developers' event to be held during the Oct. 21 Bemidji State University men's hockey game at the Sanford Center.
Chris Campbell, an executive with Carlson Companies, was searching for a franchisee to build a Sanford Center-attached hotel in Bemidji. He long had been interested in the Bemidji site but didn't have a developer.
Campbell, who already was planning to attend, was encouraged to bring along prospective developers. The idea was that they could watch the Beavers play Michigan Tech while also meeting community leaders and learning about the south shore.
Campbell invited Snyder.
Snyder, already involved in a large project in Costa Rica, considered not coming. But his wife was leaving town for the weekend and encouraged him to get away as well.
So he did.
Other businesspeople with south shore interest also attended, but Snyder was the focus of the evening. The "who's who of Bemidji" stopped by the events center suite donated for the evening by Paul Bunyan Communications. Bemidji city councilors, business and civic leaders, and even former BSU head coach Bob Peters and current head coach Tom Serratore stopped by.
"It was a really good event," said Dave Hengel, one of several people working to market the south shore to developers. "In the course of a three-hour game, we sold Bemidji."
Within a week, the city would receive a letter of intent from Snyder indicating a forthcoming development proposal.
"It was pretty clear that night he was pleased," Hengel said.
Hengel, who today assumes a new position as the executive director of the Joint Economic Development Authority, had through Friday been leading a three-person team with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission to market and sell the Village at South Shore development. Hengel, HRDC's former director of community stewardship development, does not expect his role to change with his new position.
The HRDC team also includes Aaron Chirpich, a development specialist, and Tiffany Fettig, business loan consultant. All three credited community and business leaders with playing integral roles in marketing the area to Campbell and Snyder.
"Everybody has been top-notch," Chirpich said. "Everybody has been passionate."
On Dec. 7, Bemidji learned Snyder & Associates had accepted the city's offer, which will result in the construction of a Country Inn & Suites attached to the Sanford Center's George W. Neilson Convention and Conference Center.
Plans include a 120-room hotel with an attached restaurant. Construction is expected to begin in the spring.
A purchase agreement is in the works. The land will be sold at $8 per square foot, totaling $800,000 to $1.1 million, depending on land needs, according to John Chattin, city manager. The city has requested $100,000 in nonrefundable earnest money.
An attached hotel has always been considered a necessity for the events center, particularly for attracting large conventions.
Until this fall, the city had been working with Brenny Properties toward a Holiday Inn Resort. The plan was first for a 100-room hotel with the potential of adding on an addition 68 rooms at a later date. A Sporting News Bar and Grill had been planned as a ground-floor restaurant. In May, the city and Brenny both signed a purchase agreement through which Bemidji would sell more than 2 acres for $1.085 million.
Those plans, though, fell through.
And Campbell, who had long been keeping an eye on south shore developments, was all but ready to go.
"In my role in development I think it's important that you continue to chase after a deal until the ink is dry," Campbell said.
The city, through the Bemidji Economic Development Authority, owns 137 acres along the south shore of Lake Bemidji. The site boasts one mile of public lake shore, a half-mile-long park and the Paul Bunyan Trail. Anchoring the site is the 185,000-square-foot Sanford Center, which hosts BSU's home hockey teams.
But other development, while expected, has not yet occurred. Construction of a new DoubleTree Hotel to be attached to the east end of the Green Mill, is expected this spring.
In order to sell and market the land, the city has contracted with the HRDC and Russ McGinty, a Twin Cities-based broker/Realtor.
Campbell said reading a Pioneer article last fall about the contract was his first exposure to south shore opportunities. He contacted McGinty, who operates North Central Commercial Real Estate LLC, and opened a dialogue about the site.
Campbell had recently moved from the operations side of Carlson Companies to development. He was looking into opportunities and Bemidji's south shore was one of the first ones he pursued.
"It's a fantastic site," he said.
Carlson Companies, with more than 1,000 hotels in 80 countries, includes brands such as Radisson and Country Inn & Suites. But the company does not develop the hotels; franchisees do that.
Campbell, who sells only Country Inn & Suites, began gathering the necessary market data and became intrigued by south shore prospects.
But the city had entered into an exclusive agreement with Brenny Properties with the expectation of a Holiday Inn Resort.
Campbell continued to stay tuned in to the south shore. He attended the HRDC's first developers' event in March at the Sanford Center as the Beavers faced off against Minnesota.
Hengel and Campbell spoke often about the state of the Holiday Inn Resort plans.
"I worked really hard on that," Hengel said about maintaining a working relationship with Campbell. "It was all about laying the groundwork."
If a Carlson Companies brand was to be built in the south shore, it would be attached to the Sanford Center.
"(Campbell) was never interested in that," Hengel said of a standalone hotel. "He was, however, very interested in the Bemidji market."
Campbell said he never considered giving up on Bemidji, but said he was placed in another holding pattern this summer when the city gave Brenny an extension to execute the purchase agreement.
"There were a lot of heroes in this process," Hengel said. "Chris was one of them. He stuck with us when he didn't have to."
Earlier in the year, Campbell had shopped the site around to potential developers but did not get any interest. After the city gave Brenny an extension, he decided to wait on seeking a developer.
"I didn't want to put the project in front of people and have them get excited only to have everything work out for (Brenny)," he said.
But once the deadline passed, he moved quickly. Campbell met up with Snyder at a Twin Cities hospitality summit in October, thanks to a mutual business contact. Within about six weeks, they had a project.
"I'm excited. It's a great market. It certainly fits who we are," Campbell said. "It's a fantastic site and, hopefully, our building there, or Tripp building there, that will kick-start some further development. Ultimately, that needs to happen."
The entire year was about building relationships between community and city leaders and the developers, Hengel said. Business leaders stepped up in multiple ways. Paul Bunyan Communications twice donated its hockey suite to the cause. Kraus-Anderson, Deerwood Bank and American Time & Signal donated their suites to the March developers' event.
McGinty's role in the whole process, Hengel noted, was linking Campbell with the city.
"We wouldn't have developed a relationship with Chris if he didn't already have a relationship with Russ beforehand," Hengel said. "Once people are here, we sell ourselves."
But Snyder wasn't alone in his south shore ambitions.
Another developer submitted a letter of intent for an attached Cambria Suites hotel.
The city, which in 2009 had received not a single response to its request for proposals for an attached hotel, suddenly had options.
"What are the odds that you're going to have two?" Hengel said.
Both developers submitted offers. The city first countered to the Cambria Suites developer and then, once that was rejected, countered with the exact same offer to Snyder & Associates, who accepted.
"It was a great gift to the city to have multiple options," Hengel said, speculating that the Cambria offer came faster because Snyder was on deck and Snyder probably sweetened his offer because he knew Cambria was interested as well. "It was valuable for the community to have that happen."
Chattin said Snyder & Associates is working with architects and engineers to finalize a design and finish a site plan.
A purchase agreement will be signed by the city and developer once the needed footprint is identified.
Meanwhile, McGinty said he is working with Snyder toward finalizing a tenant for the restaurant that will be attached to the Country inn & Suites and the Sanford Center. Several chains have been contacted and he expects a deal to be in place by mid-January.
"It's a great opportunity," McGinty said.
The connection between the hotel and convention center will be more than just physical access. Snyder & Associates originally proposed managing the convention center. The city rejected that offer, but worked out an arrangement through which Snyder & Associates, or its hotel management, will have office space in the Sanford Center alongside VenuWorks, the city-contracted firm that manages the events center, and VisitBemidji.
All will work together to book conventions and conferences.
"I think that partnership will be powerful," Hengel said.
There are three other development opportunities in the early stages of proposals. Two are for the south shore and one is for the former Minnesota Department of Transportation site located north of Lueken's Village Foods South at the intersection of Paul Bunyan Drive and Washington Avenue.
The city's proposal review committee met Dec. 22 to weigh those potential offers. The Bemidji Economic Development Authority, comprised of city council members, will likely meet to consider the proposals in the coming weeks.
After six months without a lot of development interest, the HRDC team said they have gone from having very gradual interest and now a lot at once.
The economy seems to be turning around, Hengel noted.
"And the feelings are good about the events center," Fettig added.
The newest development opportunities became much more likely once the hotel was announced, they confirmed.
"There is the opportunity for this to be a true economic generator for the city," Hengel said.
(c)2012 The Bemidji Pioneer (Bemidji, Minn.)
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