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Detroit Lakes to study Conference Center feasibility

Detroit Lakes is looking into a conference center, but the idea is not without opposition.

Tuesday evening the council passed motions to include state bonding support for a conference center and to fund 51 percent -- up to $40,800 -- of a feasibility study on the conference center and redevelopment area.

Community Development Director Larry Remmen said, based on a previous study, the total project for a conference center is estimated at $8 million. A feasibility study would determine a more accurate number, plus size and location of the facility.

Other options -- like using the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center -- have been reviewed, but will be studied more in-depth with the feasibility study. Most involved say a hotel needs to be attached to the conference center for it to be productive.

Regardless, Alderman Leonard Heltemes said he's opposed to even the study for the conference center, namely because of who will be paying for it.

The money is being taken from the liquor store fund.

Alderman Ron Zeman said a hotel must be attached, but doesn't know of any hotels in the area interested in that. Therefore, he's afraid the city will be stuck paying for and supporting the building, adding that the city already "has its hands full" trying to pay off the DLCCC.

The entire cost of the feasibility study is estimated at $34,000 for the conference portion and $46,000 for the redevelopment area. The Detroit Lakes Development Authority has applied for Rural Development grant from the USDA for 49 percent of the costs. The city is applying for another grant through the USDA for a portion of the costs as well.

In the redevelopment area included in the study is West Lake Drive, Highway 10 corridor and the gateway district.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he feels the city needs to grow and look at getting the conference center. It would benefit downtown businesses as well, bringing in more merchants.

"You're destroying downtown if you don't do this conference center," he said.

"I just don't want this to be another thing the taxpayers have to pay for," Zeman countered.

Heltemes said he agreed, not wanting the taxpayers to have to pay for the conference center or the feasibility study. He said he "totally opposes" the $40,800 the city will pay for the study.

"I think it's really important we look to do this," Mayor Larry Buboltz said.

He added that he heard the same arguments when other ventures were discussed like developing the west side of Detroit Lakes, the Washington Square Mall, the DLCCC and more.

"What would our town be without vision?" he said. "Sometimes the taxpayers must make investments, too."

With more detailed answers available after the feasibility study, Alderman GL Tucker said he's "willing to take the $40,000 risk" to have the study performed.

Heltemes, also chair of the liquor and gambling committee for the city, said he felt the liquor committee should get to meet and decide if it wants to fund the feasibility study.

"There's a saying at state, 'when you're trying to delay (an issue), run it through as many committees as possible.' I see what you're doing," he said.

Imholte added that when the city decided to take $250,000 from the liquor fund to cover costs on the Long Lake project, it wasn't run past the committee.

He also said that an addition of a conference center would likely bring more businesses to town. He added that if the feasibility comes back saying the city can't handle a conference center, he'll step back on the issue.

When it came time to vote, Heltemes amended the original motion of paying up to $40,800 and the feasibility study to splitting the two studies and only supported the redevelopment grant, not the conference center one.

Aldermen Heltemes, Zeman and James Hannon voted in favor of the amendment to strike the conference center feasibility study. With the remaining six aldermen voting opposed to the amendment and eventually in favor of the two feasibility studies, the city is moving forward with feasibility studies and grant money for the process.