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Rushford deliberates over motel location

Fri, Apr 24th, 2009
Posted in Government

Tom Serie

Even though the agenda included a discussion of over $10 million in street, sewer and water improvements needed in the city, arguably the most anticipated discussion at the Rushford City Council meeting April 13 was the EDA recommendation to approve final platting and infrastructure development for the Himlie Business Park in the north part of town, along with drafting an agreement for the sale of approximately four acres in the park to F & L Development, Inc, for their purpose of constructing a 21-unit Guardian Inn motel.

And yet, for all the anticipation, the audience was nearly empty.

Tom Serie of F & L Development, Luverne, Minnesota, was present to once again speak for his project which has caused a mixed reaction, most notably resistance from some downtown business people who would prefer to see a motel in the downtown area.

Serie had contacted the city about his intentions before the 2007 flood, and for awhile the flood delayed further talks.

But not many months passed before Serie was back with his idea of a motel in the Himlie Business Park, and in the same development phase, he wished to develop a new community banquet center and a small development of town houses. Serie offered several scenarios, from simply building a 21-unit motel, most rooms with attached garage units, to developing the community center and housing as well.

Last August, the council approved unanimously scenario "B": a motel in the Himlie Park and a new community center somewhere in town (not necessarily on the same site as the motel).

The council approved similar motions with Scenario "B", including an engineering study, four more times in 2008, with votes always being unanimous until December when Laura Deering was the lone vote against a motion "for the development of a motel by F & L Development, Inc. and to continue the investigation of developing an improved and enlarged community center," according to minutes.

The council next approved a public hearing on the preliminary platting of Himlie Park in January, and in February, 2009, passed a resolution to approve the preliminary plat for the "Himlie Business Park."

At last Monday's meeting, however, councilmen Dahl and Johnson dragged their feet about moving ahead with the final platting, and peppered Serie with questions.

Early on, Dahl told the council that he'd heard from "people on the street" who were planning to build a motel downtown as a private enterprise. He did not reveal the identity of any in the group and it appeared none were present at the meeting during the discussion.

"He's (Serie) not asking to be the only motel in town," Block said. "If someone else wants to develop a motel, they can have at it."

"Have you ever conducted a traffic flow study?" Dahl asked Serie. "Because if you did and it said you'd have good traffic out there, I think the study might be erroneous."

Serie affirmed that he'd had a marketing study conducted some time ago and was encouraged by the results and had no reason to question the marketing firm that he'd hired.

Dahl said he'd rather see a motel downtown than in the Himlie Park and that he thought a downtown motel would be much more successful.

Dahl brought up what he felt were similar motel situations in both Spring Valley and Winona that he considered not satisfactorily successful. Serie countered that he couldn't speak to situations in other communities.

"I'm interested in building a Guardian Inn in Rushford," he stated.

Serie, who has made it clear he's not interested in developing his motel in the downtown area for several reasons, has also stated that he welcomes competition.

"If someone comes in and builds a motel (in Rushford) after I build mine, so be it. I can't stop them. But I'm not going to stop my project because of rumors of another one being built."

"It's not just a rumor," Johnson said quietly. "They're already talking to (a downtown property owner)."

Benson and Ladewig both stated that they had not personally been approached by individuals or groups saying they wished to develop a motel in downtown Rushford.

Ladewig grew impatient with talk of the anonymous group.

"Can we ask their names?"

After receiving no answer, he said, "It looks to me like what we have is a subversive attempt to block something that we've been approving all along."

Benson added, "We've been working on this (motel project with Serie) for a long time. I feel that we have a prior commitment."

She then made the motion to approve the EDA's recommendation to go ahead with the final platting and infrastructure development of the Himlie Business Park. The mayor asked for a second three times, during which Dahl and Johnson remained silent.

"Motion dies for lack of a second," the mayor said.

There was then a time of confusion when nobody seemed 100% certain of what had just happened.

City clerk Kathy Zacher ventured a comment: "I think the platting still has to occur."

Block concurred that legally, the platting would have to be done.

"If this other group is inclined to build a motel, after twenty-some years of struggle in this town to get one, maybe they can get busy and bring something to the table so you'd have that to consider, too," Block suggested.

Meanwhile, the council will still have to take up the issue of a purchase agreement with Serie's company at the next council meeting, April 27.

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