Rhonda Silence

EDA grants business development funds, names new golf course superintendent and more

The Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority had a very busy April meeting. WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with EDA Executive Director Mary Somnis right after the meeting about business development, housing projects, the new golf course superintendent, and more.

Bluefin Bay planning workforce housing project
The EDA meeting started off with a presentation by Bluefin Bay Resorts co-owner Joe Swanson, along with semi-retired former owner Dennis Rysdahl. The duo shared information on a proposed housing project on two lots owned by the company to the east of the AmericInn. The lots were previously zoned as a planned unit development, but Bluefin would like to expand the number of housing units and add commercial space to the project. They shared a drawing of the proposed two-story building which would include two one-bedroom apartments; eight two-bedroom apartments; and two three-bedroom apartments. The proposed building would also include seven commercial rental spaces of 1,350-square feet.

The Bluefin representatives said they are still seeking approximately $153,000 in funding to complete the project. The presentation was information only at this time.

Two applications for assistance from the EDA Business Development Fund approved
The EDA heard from two businesses seeking funding from the EDA’s Business and Housing Development Fund. Sam Hedstrom and Kate Keeble, two of the four co-owners of The Fisherman’s Daughter, were at the meeting to answer questions about their application for $15,000 for cooler upgrades for the fish market/deli/restaurant, to create an easier way to serve customers in a “grab and go” format. The EDA board unanimously approved that request.

The Grand Portage Trading Post, represented by Grand Portage Enterprises Director Brian Sherburne, also requested business development funds for a new produce cooler. Sherburne said the cooler not only serves visitors in the area but community members. The EDA board approved the request for $2,499 unanimously.

The EDA was asked to support a possible housing project, not with money, but with a grant application to the Iron Range Resources. Sarafin Metis plans to demolish an old house trailer on a property she owns to construct two one-bedroom houses which could serve as affordable housing. She asked the EDA to support an application to the Iron Range Resources for demolition. The EDA Board also approved that request.

Another request for assistance from the Iron Range Resouces came from the Cook County Historical Society. The historical society is seeking financial assistance to create and implement a stormwater management plan on the Cedar Grove Business Park lot it has purchased. The lot will be used to construct an archival building. The EDA gave its full support to the application.

Cedar Grove Business Park activities
A potential lot sale in Cedar Grove Business Park was discussed. Director Somnis said the EDA had received a request from local boat builder Josh Tolken. Tolken is doing an internship at North House Folk School. His internship at the folk school is ending soon and he hopes to stay here in Cook County to open a boat building shop. He is interested in the Cedar Grove lot directly above Nordic Electric.

EDA Director Somnis explained that Tolken will only purchase the lot if the legislation to change its designation is passed. The EDA is working with local legislators to allow the owners of commercial/industrial business parks to offer lots with fewer restrictions if lots remain unsold over a decade. The EDA would like to offer more owner-occupied lots, to allow a business owner to combine housing and the business on one lot.

The EDA board came up with a counter to Tolken’s offer of $25,000 for the lot and agreed to make the sale contingent on the legislature changing the language on allowed uses in the business park.

There was discussion about attempts to sell business park lots in the past, with EDA Board Member and Realtor Virginia Palmer asking why there were not consistent, set lot prices. She noted that real estate prices have gone up significantly in the past year. She asked her colleagues to consider whether the EDA should raise lot prices.

There was also discussion of whether or not an animal shelter should be constructed in the business park. Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen contacted the EDA to ask if the city could purchase the lot above Como Oil & Propane for $1 as had been requested about a year ago.

At that time, the city was considering using the lot for a solar array and it seemed that a small animal shelter could be located there as well. The animal shelter has to be moved from the small pound building near the lakeshore in the Grand Marais Recreation Park because improvements are being made to the boat launch there.

EDA Board Member Bev Green also serves on the Arrowhead Animal Rescue board, which is working with Sheriff Eliasen on this. She said Arrowhead Animal Rescue is putting up a third of the money to build a new shelter. For now, stray animals are being kept in kennels at the garage at the law enforcement center.

Green said it is the sheriff’s responsibility to find a location for the pound as he is the county animal control officer. But she said the shelter does not need that large lot. Green said the sheriff probably asked for the larger lot because that was what was discussed previously.

After some discussion, the EDA asked Director Somnis to contact the sheriff about using a different, smaller lot. EDA’s Howard Hedstrom suggested that the animal shelter be built on county land, near the highway department complex.

The matter was tabled until the next EDA so Director Somnis can get more information from the sheriff.

Taconite Relief Area Loans distributed
In other business, Small Business Development Center Consultant Pat Campanaro gave a report on the distribution of the Taconite Area Business Relief Loan Program. The EDA was granted $215,000 from the Iron Range Resources Board for business relief. Campanaro told the EDA that 34 applications had been received for over $425,000. The EDA committee reviewing the applications had a difficult time selecting businesses to receive the loan. The committee focused on businesses that had not received other forms of COVID-19 financial assistance. None of the businesses received the full amounts requested.
The committee chose the following 18 businesses to receive loans if they meet the criteria.
Cascade Vacation Rentals
Lutsen Mountainside Lodge
Sivertson’s Gallery
Fika Coffee
North House Folk School
Lutsen Reflections
Hedstrom Lumber
JNS Custom Jewelers
The Fisherman’s Daughter
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters
GunFlint Mercantile
Joy Enterprises
Well Spring Therapy
Grand Marais Art Colony
Mueller Studio
Basecamp Bungalows
Voyageur Brewing Company
Coldwater Foundation

EDA working on hiring next EDA director
After her announcement that she would like to retire a year ago, progress is being made on finding someone to take on the EDA director position so Mary Somnis can step down. Small Business Development Center Consultant Pat Campanaro is working with the EDA personnel committee on this succession planning.

She said the committee is working on the employment ad and the explanation of what the EDA wants of its director. The EDA will make the job announcement available soon. Campanaro said the committee is working hard to “replace Mary, who is irreplaceable.”

The next EDA meeting will be May 11 at 4 p.m.

After the meeting, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with EDA Director Mary Somnis to learn more about all of this.