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By Pippi Mayfield, Forum Communications, Published September 18 2012

Detroit Lakes City Council approves $300,000 for $6.2 million Detroit Mountain project

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Tuesday evening at a special meeting, the Detroit Lakes City Council approved becoming the landowner of the Detroit Mountain project and contributing $300,000 to the project.

The motion, which came after more than an hour of presentation and discussion, was passed unanimously. It was met with clapping and cheering from the audience that packed city hall.

"I think we did the right thing," Mayor Matt Brenk said tongue-in-check.

At least 75 people sat in chairs, stood in the back of the room and sat on the floor of city hall to listen to Mark Fritz give a presentation on behalf of Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Inc., and give comments of support for the project.

"I don't ski, I don't bike, I don't do anything that takes much exertion," Duane Wething said. "But if you pass up this opportunity, you have passed up an opportunity of a lifetime."

He added that there are only two towns around here that have passed up opportuntities - Westbury and Luce.

The DMRA group formed in 2010 as a group of businessmen and women in the area interested in reopening the ski hill, which operated from 1958-2004 under private ownership. The group saw it not only as something for people in town to do, but they say it as a value to the local economy.

"If you haven't been up there to see a sunset, you're really missing something. It's a great view,"

Fritz said. And in a time with less tourism and less activity, we see Detroit Mountain as part of the answer."

Besides just a downhill ski area though, the group envisions a four-season recreation area. A feasibility study for the property included cross-country skiing, tubing, a terrain park, camping, biking and hiking opportunities. There is also opportunity to host bike races, trail runs, the BMX bike club relocating to the grounds and possibly hosting a Tough Mudder competition.

"No matter what the cost is, we think we can find a way to fund it," Arlen Kangas said. Kangas, president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, helped in the feasibility study preparation.

The $6.2 million project is projected to be paid using four different sources. A large portion of the project, $2.33 million, would come from the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails grant and from the Legacy fund. Another large key, $2.6 million, would come from private donations that the DMRA group agreed to raise. The city would kick in $300,000, and $989,000 would come from New Market Tax Credits.

The cost would include building a new lodge, widening the road into the mountain and then creating all the recreation pieces like the campground, tubing area, purpose built bike tracks, etc.

Estimated income for the recreation area could vary. If the mountain could pull in 25,000 visits a year, it would profit $32,000. If it could pull in 40,000 visits, it could profit $68,000. The site visits were estimated from other surrounding ski areas.

"Spring, summer and fall would break even," Stu Omberg said. Omberg, CEO of the DLCCC, also helped with the feasibility study.

Basically the only profit from the warmer months would be from camping. The ski season would carry the facility.

An audience member asked what would become of the profits, if it would just go back in the city coffers. City Administrator Bob Louiseau said that the money would collect in the reserves until a larger portion has been built up and then it would be at the discretion of the city council what to do with that money. Similar to how the Detroit Country Club is run, when the profit builds in that reserve, the city puts the money into other recreation projects around the city. Louiseau said he would recommend that for this project as well.

Several people pointed out that though there may be hurdles now, 10 years down the road, this will be viewed as one more huge amenity for the city like the mile-long beach, the country club and the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center.

Every year since it's closed, Tourism Director Cleone Stewart said they get calls at the chamber of commerce asking about the mountain.

"It would be nice to refer them down the road, not out of town," she said.

Paul Brenden, Teri Lynne Nelson and their daughter moved to the area in 1998 from the Twin Cities.

Nelson said she questioned what in the world they'd do here for activity after being in the Cities, but

Detroit Mountain was open and it was the perfect place for her family to spend the weekends together.

Brenden said that many skiing greats have come from the Cities and the mountain there.

"Wouldn't it be great to see a snowboarder or skier come from Detroit Mountain in the Olympics?" he added.

"These kids are passionate about this," Mike Hutchinson said. "My kid makes me drive 100 miles here, 100 miles there to take her skiing. Having her go a mile or two down the road would be much better,” he said.

Maplelag owner Jay Richards said he supported the project and applauded the work put into it, but he was concerned about the fact that there would be no property tax on the land since it would be city owned, but private business owners like himself has to pay fairly substantial taxes for their recreation land.

Besides the economic and financial benefits, some audience members pointed out the health benefits as well.

Dale Bosh, executive director of Ski Gull Mountain in Nisswa, said Ski Gull was started by a group of interested families, finding an activity to get their kids off their "duffs."

"We need to get off our duffs," he said.

With the rate of obesity increasing, the recreation area would give kids and families more opportunities.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime and you can do it for a lifetime," Karen Shipley said of skiing. "I

have a lot of years to catch up."

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he was in favor of the project as long as the city moves forward with a 1 percent city sales tax, and he wants all those present Tuesday to be out voting in favor of the tax next year to fund projects like this.

"It's a great project for Detroit Lakes," Brenk said. "It's low risk and high reward."


Pippi Mayfield writes for the Detroit Lakes Tribune