North House Folk School aims to purchase city owned property that is currently leased
North House Folk School

North House Folk School aims to purchase city owned property that is currently leased

As it plans for its future in Grand Marais, including adding more classroom space and at least one new building, officials with North House Folk School in Grand Marais are hoping to purchase land they currently lease from the city.

North House staff are expected to initiate the process of purchasing the city-owned parcel during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Grand Marais City Council Wednesday, July 13.

North House Folk School Director Greg Wright said North House will ask the city councilors to begin negotiations that ensure North House’s long-term future on the city-owned parcel that is part of campus. The parcel is central to North House’s operations, Wright said, including three structures frequently used for classroom instruction, public events and other campus needs.

The property being discussed is leased 25 years at a time by North House, with six years remaining on the current lease. The value of the .83-acre parcel, located between the Grand Marais Recreation Park and the North House owned Fisherman’s Daughter/Dockside fish market, is just over $1.2 million. North House is a nonprofit organization, which means it does not pay property taxes on land that it owns.

Under the terms of the lease, North House pays a monthly fee of approximately $390 to lease the bulk of its campus. This is shoreline property in the Grand Marais Harbor. That equates to approximately $4,700 annually.

Wright told WTIP in a July 11 interview, “The way it was originally conceived in our lease, which was written 20 years ago, 19 years ago, technically, it was envisioned to be equal to the local property tax that the unimproved property would have generated.”

The request to purchase land from the city is not the first such action taken by North House in recent years when it comes to land ownership. In 2018, North House completed the sale to buy Dockside Fish Market (now Fisherman’s Daughter) for approximately $1.3 million. In fall 2021, North House purchased a parcel of raw land across Highway 61 from a resident for $275,000.

Wright told WTIP that North House will propose during the council meeting Wednesday night that Grand Marais officials initiate an appraisal and define a process and timeline for negotiations that position North House to purchase the property that the folk school currently leases from the city.

The request to purchase land from the city follows a string of news stories WTIP has reported on about North House in 2022. Among them was a proposed plan to move the Scott Fish House from its current location near the shoreline of Lake Superior. The idea of relocating the historic fish house sparked a collection of community concerns, ultimately leading North House to withdraw the request and a shoreline setback request involved with building a new structure where the fish house currently stands.

“To keep the historic fish house on its current foundation, we had to explore new building sites, and the most appropriate space is on the property leased from the city,” North House Director Greg Wright said. “The city would receive a clear financial benefit from the sale, an important community asset can be stewarded in place, and North House would be able to address its campus needs with a clear understanding of the future.”

Wright said that as the nonprofit’s board of directors looked toward the future, it became clear that North House needed to replace two of our old outdated classrooms that are too small.

“Our need for a new building is not about growth but is about making our campus on the south side of Highway 61 work better,” he said.

North House hosted a number of community meetings they called ‘listening sessions’ this spring, with more than 60 community members attending and sharing input on where North House fits into the future of Grand Marais and Cook County. Wright said five key areas emerged from those listening sessions, including potential impacts on the current fishery, the relocation of the Scott Fish House, ensuring public access to the harbor, the proximity of the building to the lake and North House’s lease agreement with the city.

Wright said that some community members have asked about the possibility of locating the new building on the property on the north side of Highway 61, which has community history as a potential Ojibwe burial site.

“We want to continue to work in partnership with the Grand Portage Tribal Council and descendants of Chippewa City as we explore future possibilities with that parcel,” Wright said.

After the council meeting Wednesday night, North House Folk School will host four community conversations to address questions with these new plans. The listening sessions will be on July 14 at 4:30 p.m., July 15 at noon, July 17 at 1 p.m., and July 19 at 7 p.m. All four conversations will take place in the Green Building at North House.

Comments and questions can be directed to Greg Wright or Tom Morse –the school can also be reached at 218-387-9762.

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Wright about the upcoming council meeting and plans for the folk school to purchase more property in Grand Marais. Audio below.