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Giants Ridge seeks state bonding for new events center
In an attempt to leverage public funds to attract private investment, IRRRB is vying for $4.9 million of legislative bonding monies during the 2014 appropriation for a new events center at Giant’s Ridge Resort in Biwabik. A unique regional economic development model, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) has been a state entity for 70 years, but has never received bonding dollars. Fully funded by the taconite production tax, the agency is now asking to be included in next year’s legislative bonding bill, which could total $1 billion for the entire state. Other proposed projects in the area include Chisholm City Hall, Vermillion State Park and a new office building for Virginia’s AEOA.
The Bavarian Alpine-themed architecture of Biwabik’s main street is a surprising find in a tiny Iron Range town having strong Italian, Slavic, German and Scandinavian ancestral routes. Creating a quaint feeling almost reminiscent of a pastoral location in the old country, the idea was brought forward in the 1980s by the Biwabik Area Civic Association (BACA) as a way to revitalize the town as mining slowed by attracting tourists.
Current BACA President and City Councilor Mark Jackson was the group’s first president at its inception in the 1970s. A long-time business owner in Biwabik (Jackson’s Trustworthy Hardware and Sheetmetal), Jackson says they were approached in the 1980s by the IRRRB seeking support to develop Giants Ridge, a ski area that had been around since the 1950s.
Steel production had declined to half of what it had been at the end of 1982, and demand for Minnesota’s taconite stalled. In a town that was literally built around a mine, the effect was devastating. More than half of Minnesota’s 14,000 taconite workers were unemployed by 1983.
Under Gov. Rudy Perpich’s push for jobs, the IRRRB identified Giant’s Ridge Resort as a way to creatively address non-industrial economic development in the region. The BACA lobbied for state and federal dollars, winning a loan/grant combination for renovating the town. Business owners who participated were able to obtain low-interest loans, as low as 3 percent, to help offset the costs. According to Jackson, the BACA canvassed the town for ideas on a unified theme for their main street facelift, and the Bavarian Alpine look won.
By 1984 IRRRB had purchased the Giant’s Ridge facility, and have since worked to make it a year-round travel destination for golf, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Investing millions of dollars over the years, it now attracts over 100,000 guests annually. Calling it a public/private partnership, Managing Director Linda Johnson says that real estate and housing developers are the key investors that they hope to attract with a new events center.
The proposed event center would replace the current 30-year-old facility, and would house skier services, a ski school, banquet facilities and a conference center. Citing energy inefficiency, heating issues, and roofing problems with the current building, Johnson says that replacing the structure will allow them to provide services and amenities that would enhance attractiveness for consumers and other businesses to come in to the area.
“This would set the stage for moving forward and attract additional private sector developers,” says Johnson, claiming that it would help draw people to relocate or build second homes on adjacent property.
IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich has committed to matching the $4.9 million dollar for dollar with taconite production tax money.
“We meet all the criteria for legislative bonding appropriation money,” he said. “Giant’s Ridge has regional and statewide significance; it is a major statewide facility.”
With an aging infrastructure, and a lack of solid investment there in the last 30 years, Sertich says the time has come to make improvements to attract other businesses.
“I made significant investment at Giant’s Ridge a top priority as commissioner,” Sertich says. He sees this investment as doing more than helping the surrounding community, claiming a resulting economic impact that will reach all across Minnesota.
The bill will come to a vote in Minnesota’s House and Senate sometime between late February and May 2014. Once projects are prioritized and selected by legislators, the funds will begin to be appropriated soon thereafter. Sertich says the site is “shovel ready,” and that construction will begin immediately if Giant’s Ridge is chosen to receive bonding dollars. With the ski hill, two golf courses and lodging already in place, Sertich says Giant’s Ridge is a beautiful tourist destination.
“Now we have to keep investing to see more private investment and continue to grow,” he says.Previous Construction Articles:
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