Big turnout for Detroit Mt meeting
There may not be a plan or many answers, but there is support -- and a dream.
"Dare to dream what we could do with that mountain," City Administrator Brian Berg said to a packed house.
About 300 people turned out Thursday evening -- and more than 2,000 people became fans of the Facebook page Bring Detroit Mountain Back -- to hear from Berg on where the issue of the county purchasing Detroit Mountain land is and to ask questions and voice comments on the matter.
"I'm not sure anyone has all the answers at this stage," former Detroit Lakes mayor Larry Buboltz said at the start of the open house.
Berg said last fall he was talking to someone in the hallway who pointed out the "need to get Detroit Mountain going again," he said. "Gee, it sounded really good."
They discussed both winter and summer options for the recreation land -- waterslide, campground and more summer possibilities -- and agreed that, "even if it's not an economic boom for the area, what other benefits are there?"
For one, many people at the meeting Thursday spoke about the benefits to children, getting them outside and active.
"Would this get them outside?" Berg asked. "We don't know, but it would be one more thing for them to get out and do."
"This is a huge avenue to get our kids back out there," Jon Mickelson agreed. "The youth is our future."
One also mentioned the benefit of having another possible competitive sport for the school district.
Berg said a few months ago he brought his hallway conversation to the Becker County Board to make it public. At the time, they got minimal feedback. That's since changed.
With the Bring Back Detroit Mountain grassroots effort, the administrator and commissioners have received plenty of feedback.
Just one of the options the county has talked about involves trading tax-forfeited land for the mountain land, but no specific land trade has been pinpointed.
"If we could trade that for something closer to the city and see more footprints on it ... that just seems to make more sense to us," Berg said.
He said others have contacted him to say they don't want their taxes to increase if this is going to be a county project. The county doesn't want that either, he assured. But, what about trading land and money from liquidated land or matching grants?
When asked if the project and business is even feasible, "I don't know," is all Berg could answer. He said there isn't a business plan in place yet because the county wanted to get feedback to see if it was even of public interest to purchase the land.
"I said purchase by the end of the year, equipment in by spring and skiing by fall," Berg said.
This statement, of course, was met by a roomful of hollers and applause.
"If you don't know me, I like to interject humor," Berg said with a smile.
Anyone who knows government, he added, knows that nothing happens overnight.
The 200-acre tract of land is assessed at $593,800 and is listed for sale at $1.6 million.
"People are judging this with 5 percent of the facts. We need more information," an audience member said.
Several people commented on how beneficial the mountain would be for the economy of Detroit Lakes. One woman asked if the city and county have any idea how many cities would love to have something like this in their backyard.
"A lot," Buboltz responded. "We could have the Olympics like Vancouver."
"This is an opportunity we can't pass up," Deb Wimmer said.
She added that it would be a horrible mistake if the land was turned into a housing development, and that the county needs to make a plan, even if it starts out slow, adding one activity to the area each year.
"We have an opportunity any community would love to have," she said. "If we don't take this opportunity, we'll never have it again."
Audience member Ron Halbakken said Detroit Lakes is getting pegged as a summer recreation location, and having the mountain back could bring tourism to the area in the winter as well.
Also, he added, if the county doesn't purchase the land and use it as a ski mountain, someone else could come in and develop it into something no one wants.
Few spoke about concerns against the project, but Gary Kolsrud, who was representing Erie Township, asked if taking portions of the tax forfeited land, if traded, off their tax roll would affect township taxes. Yes, it would.
Roads accessing the mountain were also brought up, something both Berg and Buboltz agreed would have to be repaired and upgraded.
"This is a function that went on for 50 years, but how can we improve," Berg said is the question.
He said although the chairlifts are removed, the concrete bases are still in place and the chalet is still in place. The county has also talked about the possibility of renting the chalet out in the summer for weddings.
"It isn't a free ride," LeRoy Squires said. "If we want it, we need to get behind it."
Squires said he'd give $1,000 to the mountain project.
Organizer Mark Fritz stood and offered his own matching grant, offering the second $1,000.
"There are a thousand reasons not to do things, but this is a really great opportunity," Fritz said.
As for poor economic times, "that's when you hone your competitive edge," he said.
Plus, having more activities like the mountain is one more attraction for getting people to move to Detroit Lakes and take up employment here.
Although nothing was settled at the meeting, Friday morning Berg said, he doesn't know the next step, but he'd like to see it community driven.
"That's the big question I guess," he said of what's next. "We don't want this driven by the county. We want to be a partner."
Thursday night showed a lot of momentum, he added, so hopefully the organizers continue forward with a feasibility study and grant writing.