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Bringing back Detroit Mountain -- does it make cents?

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Bringing back Detroit Mountain -- does it make cents?
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

The city of Detroit Lakes has agreed to help fund a business study on the Detroit Mountain project.

After the Becker County Board failed to support the "Bring Detroit Mountain Back" group's effort to purchase the Detroit Mountain land, the organization -- called Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Inc. -- has come up with Plan B.

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"We're still around and there is still a lot of support -- especially in the business community," said Mark Fritz.

The next step for the group is to have an outside source conduct a business study on whether the mountain project is a viable one.

Fritz said having an outside source determine that the proposal to re-open the downhill skiing operation is workable would bring support and credibility to the project.

Having a professional business study would also open doors for the organization for grants that are available for land purchase and infrastructure.

The organization plans to raise all the funds needed to open the recreation area, but wants the study done to see how to keep it running after it's open.

Fritz said he and other organizers have talked to Arlen Kangas, president of the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, and there is an interest there as well.

The group is asking for MMCDC, the city, the county and the group itself to fund the business study, 25 percent each.

Though there is no cost estimate for the study, the group requested up to $25,000 from each entity.

Fritz said that if Becker County refuses to share the cost, the Bring Detroit Mountain Back organization will kick in that portion and not ask for a third from the other participants.

"We think it would be like the city beach or the golf course and be an attraction," he said.

It isn't the intent of the group to have the city run the business though.

Fritz said the organization has 3,000 "friends" on facebook, 1,000 people signed a petition and are willing to help with the mountain, and the organization has met with six businesses that are willing to kick in $400,000 if the project should hap-pen.

And that's without doing a capital campaign, he added.

Having a public-private partnership would help make the pro-ject a success, Fritz said.

Detroit Lakes Alder-man Ron Zeman said the county should be taking the lead, since Detroit Mountain is in the county, not within city limits. He added that with budget cuts, the project should not be a priority for the city.

Others disagreed.

Alderman Jim Anderson said he supports the study. It's better to find out early if the project is likely to succeed or not, he said.

There is a need for a credible study, Alderman G.L. Tucker agreed, noting that the city won't necessarily be obligated to be a part of the funding for the project, if it is deemed feasible.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he will have a hard time getting on board with the project if the county doesn't con-tribute -- but said he is in favor of the study and business plan as long as the cost doesn't take away from the bike trail system the city is already working on.

Alderman Madalyn Sukke agreed that the county should be a partner in the study.

During the finance meeting that took place before the city council meeting Tuesday after-noon, Anderson said the city should support 25 percent of the study cost up to $25,000, which would come from the liquor fund.

"If we have $25,000 to throw around, I think we need to save it in our hats. We may need it next year," Zeman said.

Sukke said the liquor store fund is for extra pro-jects such as this. It's not to take care of roads or infrastructure, but to do the projects that are above and beyond the everyday needs of the city.

Alderman Dan Wenner agreed with Zeman, saying $20,000-$25,000 was too much for the city and that "even if it comes back as viable, we're still going to put it on the shelf for four years" due to the economy.

Fritz disagreed. "As a group, we don't want to table this for four years," he said.

The group's plan is to get started right away on the study and go from there, depending on the study results.

Tucker pointed out that when the city spent money on the RDG Consulting plan, there was opposition, thinking it was a "silly" way to spend money.

Now, that plan is referred to on a regular basis, he said. The same could be said with the liquor store plan.

"Hopefully, at the end of the day, they'll get on board if we do," he said of the county commissioners.

The finance committee voted to pay up to $20,000 for the study.

Holiday Inn General Manager Jeff Jasperson said the project is important to area businesses.

"Three months we do great and nine we struggle. The project is important to the city for year-round (tourism)," he said.

On the first vote, the city council failed to pass a motion to pay up 25 per-cent of the study's cost, up to $20,000.

Zeman, Wenner and Al Brevik voted no, and Jamie Marks Erickson ab-stained from the vote be-cause she works for MMCDC. There needed to be six affirmative votes to spend the money.

City attorney Bill Briggs explained that a conflict of interest, ac-cording to state law, is when a person on the council would gain personal financial compensation from the vote.

Marks Erickson said that while she won't gain financial compensation from the project or the vote, she didn't want the public to perceive it that way.

Imholte made a motion to support the study with $10,000 in city funds, which passed when Brevik changed his vote -- with hesitation, though, he said.

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