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Our Opinion: DL should support Mountain

Volunteers with the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area are doing a tremendous job putting together a first-class ski lodge and year-round recreation area.

But a first-class facility needs a paved parking lot — that’s especially obvious this time of year — and the Detroit Lakes City Council should help.

The city is being asked to provide $550,000 for the parking lot.

And while that will more than double the $450,000 in cash pledges and in-kind labor the city has already dedicated towards the mountain, the economic impact of the $8 million project will pay back the investment many times over.

To pay for the parking lot project, the city should borrow the money from a combination of city reserve funds, and pay it back over several years with proceeds from the food and beverage tax.

That tax brings in about $300,000 a year, but is needed for trails and a number of other projects — that’s why the reserve funds should be made whole over several years.

And to make sure those funds won’t lose money in lost interest payments, the Detroit Mountain project will pay 3 percent interest over six years on the $550,000 parking lot investment by the city.

The city originally contributed $300,000 to the project.  In addition, it spent about $15,000 toward a feasibility study.

The Public Utilities Department also contributed cash and in-kind labor for electrical and other technical services worth about $150,000.

If the Council approves $550,000 for the parking lot improvements, the city and the public utilities will have about $1 million invested in the Detroit Mountain project.

It’s a good chunk of change, but it’s difficult to overstate the excitement that the project is generating in the community.

“There is a lot of news coming out of that mountain,” said Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston. “It’s going to change Detroit Lakes and how we do business.”

The new recreation area won’t just bring in skiers, snowboarders and tubers in the winter months.

Mountain biking is a popular sport, and Detroit Mountain will attract a lot of those folks during the warmer months.

After a brutal winter, workers are busy on the large new alpine lodge, which was enclosed to allow interior work to move forward.

New ski lifts have been ordered, and soon work will begin on the maintenance and warming buildings.

At the same time, final grading work will be done at the site.

Already, the top of the mountain has been raised by 20 feet to improve the runs, the parking lot was lowered by eight to 10 feet, the bunny hill for beginning skiers was built, and a 4 million gallon retention pond for snow-making has been created.

Two excellent hiring choices have also been made for DMRA, Inc. — Jeff Staley of Detroit Lakes has been hired as general manager and Detroit Lakes native Dave Sontag has been named the mountain manager.

Good leaders have vision and a willingness to invest to create a better community, and so far Detroit Lakes has been blessed with good leadership.

The City Council should continue that tradition and approve the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area request.