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Fritz gave a presentation including pictures of the old mountain operation and the proposed new one. Photo by - Brian Basham

Thumbs up to Detroit Mountain

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Thumbs up to Detroit Mountain
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Tuesday evening at a special meeting, the Detroit Lakes City Council approved becoming the landowner of the Detroit Mountain project and contributing $300,000 to the project.

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The motion, which came after more than an hour of presentation and discussion, was passed unanimously.

It was met with clapping and cheering from the audience that packed city hall.

"I think we did the right thing," Mayor Matt Brenk said tongue-in-check.

At least 75 people sat in chairs, stood in the back of the room and sat on the floor of city hall to listen to Mark Fritz give a presentation on behalf of Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Inc., and give comments of support for the project.

"I don't ski, I don't bike, I don't do anything that takes much exertion," Duane Wething said. "But if you pass up this opportunity, you have passed up an opportunity of a lifetime."

He added that there are only two towns around here that have passed up opportunities -- Westbury and Luce.

The DMRA group formed in 2010 as a group of businessmen and women in the area interested in reopening the ski hill, which operated from 1958-2004 under private ownership.

The group saw it not only as something for people in town to do, but they say it as a value to the local economy.

"If you haven't been up there to see a sunset, you're really missing something. It's a great view," Fritz said. And in a time with "less tourism and less activity, we see Detroit Mountain as part of the answer."

Besides a downhill ski area, the group envisions a four-season recreation area. A feasibility study for the property included cross-country skiing, tubing, a terrain park, camping, biking and hiking opportunities.

There is also the opportunity to host bike races, trail runs, the BMX bike club relocating to the grounds and possibly hosting a Tough Mudder competition.

"No matter what the cost is, we think we can find a way to fund it," said Arlen Kangas, president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp., which helped in the feasibility study preparation.

The $6.2 million project is projected to be funded using four different sources:

A large portion of the project, $2.33 million, would come from the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails grant and from the Legacy fund.

Another large key, $2.6 million, would come from private donations that the DMRA group agreed to raise.

The council passed the motion contingent on being awarded the $2.3 million DNR grant and DMRA raising the $2.6 million.

The city would kick in $300,000, and $989,000 would come from New Market Tax Credits, courtesy of the MMCDC.

The cost would include building a new lodge, widening the road to the mountain and then creating all the recreation pieces -- like the campground, tubing area, bike tracks, etc.

The estimated income for the recreation area varies. If the mountain pulls in 25,000 visits a year, it would post a $32,000 profit.

If it could pull in 40,000 visits, it could see a $68,000 profit. The site visits were estimated from other surrounding ski areas.

"Spring, summer and fall would break even," said Stu Omberg, CEO of the DLCCC, which also helped with the feasibility study.

Basically the only profit from the warmer months would be from camping. The ski season would carry the facility.

An audience member asked what would become of the profits, if they would just go back into city coffers.

City Administrator Bob Louiseau said that the money would collect in the reserves until a larger portion has been built up and then it would be at the discretion of the city council what to do with that money.

Similar to how the Detroit Country Club is run, when the profit builds in that reserve, the city puts the money into other recreation projects around the city.

Louiseau said he would recommend that for this project as well.

Several people pointed out that although there may be hurdles now, 10 years down the road, this will be viewed as one more huge amenity for the city, like the mile-long beach, the country club and the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center.

Tourism Director Cleone Stewart said they still get calls at the chamber of

commerce asking about the mountain, as they have every year since it closed.

"It would be nice to refer them down the road, not out of town," she said.

Paul Brenden, Teri Lynne Nelson and their daughter moved to the area in 1998 from the Twin Cities.

Nelson said she questioned what in the world they'd do here for activity after being in the Cities, but Detroit Mountain was open and it was the perfect place for her family to spend the weekends together.

Brenden said that many skiing greats have come from the Cities and the mountain there.

"Wouldn't it be great to see a snowboarder or skier come from Detroit Mountain in the Olympics," he added.

"These kids are passionate about this," Mike Hutchinson said. "My kid makes me drive 100 miles here, 100 miles there" to take her skiing. Having her go a mile or two down the road would be much better, he said.

Teenager Ian Fritz reinforced the need to have a closer mountain.

"I got to ski Detroit Mountain one year (before it closed). I'm hooked," he said. Now he gets to go skiing on family vacations and it's the highlight of the year.

"We need Detroit Mountain," he said.

"I don't see how you lose," Hutchinson said of the project. "I think things are good here. I want to make it better."

Maplelag owner Jay Richards said he supported the project and applauded the work put into it, but he was concerned about the fact that there would be no property tax on the land since it would be city-owned, but private business owners like himself have to pay fairly substantial taxes for their recreation land.

Besides the economic and financial benefits, some audience members pointed out the health benefits as well.

Tom Seaworth said that as a physician, the mountain project will be another healthy opportunity for the community, like the DLCCC.

Dale Bosh, executive director of Ski Gull Mountain in Nisswa, said Ski Gull was started by an group of interested families, finding an activity to get their kids off their "duffs."

"We need to get off our duffs," he said. With the rate of obesity increasing, the recreation area would give kids and families more opportunities.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime and you can do it for a lifetime," Karen Shipley said of skiing. "I have a lot of years to catch up."

Mary Haney said she had a message from her father, who was away celebrating his 87th birthday. "He said hurry up, he wants to ski again," she said.

Lois Greisen and Deb Erickson said the mountain would be beneficial for kids to stay out of trouble as well.

"It's an awesome, wholesome activity," Greisen said, who was a part of the ski patrol at Detroit

Mountain and was often at the mountain with her children.

Erickson works with at-risk kids and said, "they need somewhere positive for them to go."

There was also the economic aspect of who the mountain could bring to town.

"This community is fantastic," said Steve Campbell, who grew up in Fargo but moved to the lakes area as an adult. "Anything that will help develop housing and bring young families" to town is a plus. 'I absolutely support this 1,000 percent."

"I think it will benefit the city greatly for attracting new businesses and employees for new

businesses," Alderman Marty Waller said.

Alderman Ron Zeman said that the city is involved with a lot of projects at the moment, including the Pavilion, roundabout, bike trail system, Washington Avenue, wastewater plant and more.

"It's not like we don't have enough projects," he said. "It's not that it's not a good project, but are we going to have enough money for this?"

He added that he wished the county was on board with the project, too.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he was in favor of the project as long as the city moves forward with a 1 percent city sales tax, and he wants all those present Tuesday to be out voting in favor of the tax next year to fund projects like this.

"It's a great project for Detroit Lakes," Brenk said. "It's low risk and high reward."

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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