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Erik Burgess, Published October 15 2012

Sam's Club eyeing Moorhead location

MOORHEAD – The cat’s finally out of the bag, or in this case, the box.

After weeks of speculation, the city manager here confirmed Monday that Sam’s Club is the big-box store considering building just west of Menards on 27th Avenue South.

The city has been working with representatives of Sam’s Club since early August, but the Twin Cities development firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates, had asked the city to keep the name of the big-box store confidential, according to emails between city staff members obtained by The Forum via the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

In an email sent from Community Services Manager Scott Hutchins to City Manager Michael Redlinger on Aug. 30, Hutchins said Sam’s Club is considering building on a 20 acre piece of land west of Menards.

“Sams Club it is!” Hutchins wrote in the email. “Not public but word will get out.”

Redlinger confirmed this on Monday afternoon.

“They’re still doing their due diligence,” Redlinger said of the store’s representatives. “But obviously the development of a second big-box is an exciting opportunity for that part of Moorhead.”

Sam’s Club representatives are still in early talks with city officials, Hutchins said, so the move is not yet set in stone.

“We have received no plans at this time,” he said. “Obviously, we’re eagerly anticipating (the possibility).”

Chuck Chadwick, executive director of the Moorhead Business Association, said he had guessed it would be Sam’s Club following all the speculation.

“It’s a vote of confidence that Moorhead is a growing community,” Chadwick said. “A company like Walmart and Sam’s Club – they certainly would not choose a community that was on the downhill.”

Some of that speculation came from Councilman Mark Hintermeyer, who told The Forum in early September that he believed Sam’s Club was considering a move to Moorhead.

Emails between city staff show they had concern for keeping the name of the company confidential until the building permit was submitted.

In one email, Community Services Planner Amy Thorpe called Hintermeyer a “big mouth” after he spoke to The Forum about the possibility of Sam’s Club coming to Moorhead.

“Our development staff team works hard to honor the confidentiality of all the businesses we work with and this comment seemed to be contrary to that,” Thorpe said, adding that she called him a “big mouth” out of “disappointment” that he would break that confidentiality.

But Hintermeyer said after Hutchins sent a mass email to staff and council members confirming, without naming names, that a big-box store was looking at Moorhead, he felt comfortable speaking about it.

“We’re elected officials,” Hintermeyer said. “It becomes public once you talk to council members.”

In another email chain, Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge told Hutchins to keep the name of the company private and specifically not to tell “CMH,” or Councilman Mark Hintermeyer.

“He would keep it secret…wouldn’t he!?” Hutchins responded via email.

Trowbridge responded that “people with military backgrounds take that stuff seriously. ‘Loose lips sink ships’, after all.”

On Monday, Hutchins told The Forum that these comments were meant to be taken as a joke.

“It was absolutely in jest,” he said. “Absolutely no angst, no anger, no frustration. None of those emotions.”

Hintermeyer had not seen the emails that refer to him but said he spent 22 years in the military with access to high-level classified information.

“If it’s a joke, fine,” Hintermeyer said. “If it’s implying somehow that I don’t fully understand the responsibility of handling true classified information, then I’d have a problem.”

Redlinger said he teaches all his staff to treat others with respect “even if it is in jest.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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