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Teaser 2

Bronco speech at state

Talley named to all-state team

Page A11

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Council action makes way for two hotel projects; Other taxpayers not impacted
  • Updated

The International Falls City Council this week approved using an economic development tool to assist in the development of two top chain hotels.

Use of tax abatement for both projects will not increase taxes paid by other taxpayers in the city, and will result in a larger, healthier tax base when the abatement period ends, said city officials, and the city’s financial consultant.

The council Monday agreed to use tax abatement for 10 years to assist IFalls Properties LLC develop an AmericInn hotel, on Keenan Drive.

On Tuesday, the council approved use of tax abatement for the same period for IFalls Group LLC, for a Cobblestone hotel, on Highway 53.

The actions followed required hearings on each of the requests. In both projects, the council authorized Mayor Harley Droba and interim City Administrator Betty Bergstrom to move forward with the next steps. Councilor Joe Krause was absent for Monday’s special meeting; Councilor Mike Holden was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Tammy Omdal, Northland Securities, told the council in both projects the next steps are to execute the agreement with the developers, and then nothing more is done until after the projects are constructed.

Then, the increased amount of taxes resulting from the new construction will be returned to the developers to assist in making the project financially feasible.

Both projects got support from the Koochiching Economic Development Authority Board, and it’s Director Paul Nevanen, who gave high praise to both groups of developers for continuing to pursue the projects despite financial challenges caused by the pandemic and the area’s market.

Monday’s request by IFalls Properties LLC was discussed at Monday’s meeting by developers Bill Aho and Jim Makowsky, who attended online.

On Tuesday, IFalls Group LLC was represented at the meeting online by Mike Tamilia, Lawrence Maksymetz, and Brian Wogernese, president and CEO of Cobblestone Hotels.

Omdal explained agreeing to each of the requests would allow the city to capture the increase in taxes from the hotel projects to assist the project.

“Existing taxpayers will not pay any more or any less in taxes because of the project during those 10 years,” she said of both projects.

The subsidy would be used entirely to assist the project, and in exchange, the developer agrees to a certain number of jobs at a certain age level, Omdal said. The term “tax abatement” does not describe the economic tool well, she said.

Omdal said after each of the facilities are built, and with the taxes payable 2023, the additional taxes generated by the new hotel will be returned to the developer, instead of going into the city’s tax base. After 10 years, that money will go into the tax base.

She said the subsidy will help the community in two ways:

With a guaranteed number of jobs and level of wages;

The increase in tax base to the city, which could either lower taxes for all residents, or provide additional capacity to support services to all taxpayers int he city.

No opposition to either of the requests for the subsidy was heard.

The AmericInn project is a proposed four-story, 84-room hotel with pool and breakfast nook, estimated at $11.3 million. It is to be located on Keenan Drive. The group has asked for abatement from both the city and county for 15 years, however Northland has recommended 10 years abatement.

It would employ 15 full-time positions. The developer has experience in hotel development, officials have said.

Cobblestone Hotel is a proposed $10.3 million, four-story, 87-room facility with pool, and breakfast bar that transitions in evenings to a bar and small restaurant.

Through abatement, the city’s subsidy for the AmericInn project is estimated at $105,000 in tax annually for the 10-year period; the county’s abatement is an estimated $53,000 annually.

Cobblestone has requested 10 years abatement from the city and county, which would result in abatement annually of $95,560 by the city, and $50,000 annually by the county.

Meanwhile, both Falls Mayor Harley Droba and Nevanen said they’d been working with each group for some time on the projects and have been impressed by each group’s history in the hotel industry and approach to development.

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Borderland residents take advantage of morning/open swim

With the cool temperatures still hanging on in Borderland, few are hardy enough for a dip in Rainy Lake yet.

Still drawn to the water, some are taking advantage the Falls High School pool for their aquatic fix.

Morning swim

Each morning before school, the pool is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., with some protocols in place to keep swimmers as safe as possible.

Swimmers must show up ready to swim, to limit locker room use, and they are asked to wear a mask when not in the pool.

One group who visits the pool every morning say getting into the pool is a great form of exercise.

And getting together after the swim is a great form of socializing, one they missed when the pool wasn’t open, due to the pandemic.

“I think the key for most of us is that we can do a lot more in the water,” Pam Urban said. “It’s easier for us to move through the water and get more exercise in.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to get up when the weather is 30 or 35 below, but we still make it” Harmony Lennox laughed.

Jackie Glowack said the morning swim group was started years ago by Shirley Kocinski, who passed away last year. Kocinski, she said, was a great advocate of the benefits of swimming.

“She would always say ‘why don’t you come to the pool tomorrow morning?’” Glowack said.

“She was the queen of the group,” Carol Schulz agreed. “You also had to make sure you never got in her lane.”

“That’s right, if someone new was in her lane she wasn’t afraid to kick you out,” Carol Grim laughed. “However, she liked that lane because she had macular degeneration, so she had to swim in the middle of the big dark line that went through that lane.”

The newest member of this group is Kathy Hart, who said she easily fit in.

“I started going when the pool reopened back in January,” she said. “I was a bit uncomfortable at first, because these girls have been swimming together forever, but they welcomed me and I felt comfortable right away.”

The tradition includes going to Hardees for breakfast, following the morning swim.

“Most of us have been doing that for around 20 years,” Glowack said.

“We just figured we might as well get something to eat, since we’re all together anyway,” Gail Anderson said.

The group encourages anyone, young or old, to pick up swimming.

The benefits are multifold, they said.

“It’s really amazing, especially if you have health and pain problems,” Lennox said. “The pool is a place of healing, and the laughter we share always helps too.”

“I’ve had some knee problems, but since I’ve started swimming things have been getting better,” Hart agreed. “The other day, I sat cross-legged on the floor for the first time in probably 30 years.”

While Schulz swims intermittently, she said she still enjoys talking with the other women of the group during breakfast.

“These girls are my new best friends,” she said, adding when she is at the pool, she’s got her foam “noodle” for assistance.

Open swim

Those who might not want to get up in the early morning can also take a dip during open swim, which takes place Tuesday evenings from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. and on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The same protocols from morning swim are in place.

In a place like Borderland, where so many spend so much time on area lakes and rivers, knowing how to swim is a must for many youngsters. The FHS pool can help.

Bronco football head coach Seth Ettestad has been taking his daughter Lenore so she can practice swimming.

“She gets lots of exercise, and is exploring how water and swimming works,” he said. “Every time we go she gets more comfortable and trusting of the water. Family open swimming is a great way to spend our Saturday mornings.”

More information

More information on the morning and open swims can be found at the FHS Community Education office at 218-283-2571 ext. 1186.

Teaser 1

Schultz retires

Kittelson named new CVB director

Page A10

Teaser 3

FHS softball

Broncos fall to Tigers

Page B1

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Board considers 'justice campus' needs, ideas
  • Updated

Koochiching County Board Tuesday heard a review of the county’s “justice campus” facilities, with recommendations by a consultant to work toward a new jail and repurposing of other spaces.

The board took no action, and is expected to further discuss the idea.

The board met with consultant Tom Weber, who discussed the findings of his review of the flow between what he termed the county’s “justice campus,” involving the jail, courtroom, probation, and court administration offices, which are located in three different buildings.

Following a lengthy presentation to the board, and staff involved in the justice campus, he recommended working through a suggested process to define need, policy, and operations, which would lead to a design and cost.

He suggested using the existing county Court Service Committee as a criminal justice coordinating council, allowing agency leads to become planners and managers of the justice system resources. They could advise and guide the county board on facility decisions.

“Work through the process....and you will feel more comfortable with the decision making, because you will be informed,” Weber told the board.

In addition, he recommended completion of a comprehensive master plan, “with an eye toward jail replacement” and adaptive reuse of the other spaces.

The justice campus discussion follows action last fall when the county sought proposals to assess the Highway Department building and the justice campus to accommodate advancements in technology.

ICS Consulting, the firm the county selected, contacted Weber for his expertise in assessing justice campus needs.

“There is a lot of risk to operating the jail in its current conditions,” he told the board, listing several concerns.

And while the county’s buildings appear in pretty good shape, he said they do not function very well for the needs.

Flow between related offices is disorganized, he said, adding some offices are working out of closets and hallways are used for copy centers.

In addition, he said the jail over the past 20 years have seen increases in the number of mental health issues, and the severity of medical issues presented in jails. Some of those issues surround substance abuse, additions, dialysis, skin disorders, dental problems, heart conditions.

“The is a burden and a cost to a county jail when they are not equipped to deal with that,” Weber told the board

Land and forestry

In other business the board heard from Land Commissioner Nathan Heibel about the April 7 timber auction, the first of the year since the pandemic.

He reported 28 tracts sold, with prices, overall, increasing about $4 on average from earlier prices.

He reported 24,164 cords sold for a total auction value of $763,026. The total sale aspen price ranged from $12.00 to $52.80. Total sale aspen average price was $36.80, including some balm. Total sale all species average was $31.57.

In related business, the board heard that 29 tracts — with just six outside cities in the county — will be sold at a 10 a.m. June 25 tax forfeited land sale at Backus Community Center.