Rhonda Silence

EDA considers use of business park lots

There has been interest in the Cedar Grove Business Park, owned and managed by the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA), in recent months. There are about 20 lots available in the business park off the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais.

At the January 2020 meeting, EDA Director Mary Somnis reported that a new business is considering one lot. And at the February 11 meeting, the Cook County Historical Society came forward with a request for use of Cedar Grove Business Park, Lot 5, Block 7.

Carrie Johnson, executive director of the Cook County Historical Society, along with a number of historical society members, were in attendance at the EDA meeting to answer questions about their request.

Johnson explained the historical society desperately needs new storage space for the 25,000+ items in its museum collection. The current location—the basement of the old lighthouse keeper’s home, the historical museum—has flooded twice in recent storms. The historical society currently has items stored at a variety of different areas that are not properly climate controlled.

Johnson said the historical society hopes to find an appropriate storage area, away from Lake Superior.

The society had a collections assessment completed by the Midwest Arts Conservation Center, which came up with some recommendations. She said some preliminary sketches of what the storage building would look like.

EDA board member Heidi Doo-Kirk asked if the building would be staffed. Johnson said no, only when someone needed to access materials
The historical society asked the EDA to consider selling them the lot for $1.

EDA board member Hal Greenwood asked what price other lots had been sold for. EDA Executive Director Mary Somnis said previous lot sales ranged from $28,000 – $35,000. The prices vary because of the condition of the lots—size of lots, how much is buildable because of wetland, etc.

However, Somnis pointed out that there are special assessments on all of the Cedar Grove Business Park for utilities. For each lot sold, the EDA must pay $10,000 to $15,000 toward those assessments.

Board member Hal Greenwood said selling a lot at $1 would be a mistake. He expressed concern about community reaction over what would essentially equal giving a lot away.

Board member Carol Mork said she was sympathetic to the historical society’s concerns. However, she said she was surprised by the historical society’s request to purchase the lot for $1. Mork suggested the historical society look for funds to purchase the lot at a more reasonable price.

Board member Bev Green agreed. She too, said she fully understands the flooding situation and the need for better storage for the historical society. However, Green said the EDA needs to be careful as there are other entities who would also like to have lots sold to them for $1. She said there has been some talk of a request coming from the dog park group and the dog pound, seeking a lot. Green said a sale like this to the historical society could set a precedent.

EDA Executive Director Somnis reminded the EDA that the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had also asked the EDA for a lot to erect a solar garden.

The board agreed there were too many questions to proceed with the sale and members expressed reluctance to sell it for only $1. The matter was tabled to do some more research.

The EDA also talked about the proposed renovation/reconstruction of Grand Marais City Hall and how it would impact the EDA. Director Somnis distributed sketches of draft concepts so far. She said in the next month the city will be working with staff on paring down the plans.
Somnis said that discussion will also include the question of whether or not the city should include space for the EDA office. Somnis added that once the renovation has been done it is probably a certainty that the rent will increase. She said it is unlikely that the EDA can find any place to rent for $200 a month, which is what they are paying now. She said the EDA needs to keep that in mind with budget planning.

Joining the EDA board at the meeting, as she often does was Small Business Development Center Representative Pat Campanaro. Campanaro shared a written report of her activities over the past month. In January, she met with 28 clients in 64 different sessions. She also conducted a seminar on choosing merchant card services for 10 different business owners.

Campanaro added that she also held a class at Cook County Higher Education on starting a business. The night of the class was a major snowstorm and 12 people still came out, so Campanaro was pleased with that.

The next EDA meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, 2020 at 4 p.m. at Grand Marais City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and begin with a time for public comment.

After the last meeting, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with EDA Executive Director Mary Somnis to learn more.