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Developer plans motel for Rushford

Fri, Aug 15th, 2008
Posted in Government

RUSHFORD - Anyone with a minimum investment of $37,500 and the fortitude to take on huge debt can be a motel owner in Rushford, according to developer Tom Serie of F & L Management & Development.

As the developer, Serie does not wish to own the motel, and in his financial plan, $375,000 would have to be raised by a would-be owner. But Serie would help find financing for all but 10% of that-thus, the $37,500.

City Hall council chambers were packed on Monday, August 11, with interested citizens who learned that the motel issue would be on the council meeting agenda. The EDA was requesting that the council give the go-ahead to Serie to begin plans to develop one of his Guardian Inn motels in the Himlie Business Park in north Rushford; in addition to the motel, Serie would like to pursue the idea of developing a new 400-seat community/banquet center (to replace the Tenborg), and to build 2-fourplex rental housing units, all in the same area.

Some of the citizens present appeared skittish about moving too fast on the idea, while others insisted this project has been over twenty years in the making, and that the city is fortunate to have finally found a willing motel developer.

During the public comment period, Jim Kitchens, owner of Nordic Lanes and The Creamery, raised questions about the proposed development.

"Why hurry?" Kitchens asked while reading from a prepared statement.

He acknowledged that the community needs a motel, and sure a steakhouse "would be nice" (Serie has stated that a bar/steakhouse would be an asset to the motel property, but it is not part of his proposal at this time.), but Kitchens questions whether the city needs another banquet facility and bar.

Kitchens said he's been facilitating wedding receptions for about eight years and estimates that only about once a year does he have a request for a party of over 300 guests.

Kitchens also questioned Serie's proposal for motel rooms with attached garages. "Has any of us ever stayed in a motel with garages?"

But Serie countered later in the meeting that. "We will out-do all other motels in the area with our garage concept."

The proposed motel would have 21 rooms, 16 of which would have an attached garage, a concept that Serie says has been successful for the eight years he's run his Guardian Motel in Windom, Minnesota. Another Guardian Inn utilizing the garage concept is currently being constructed in Le Center, MN.

In fact, Serie said, if he were to call his Windom motel that very night, if there were any vacancies, they would be in the rooms without garages. Laborers with expensive equipment in their vehicles, hunters, women traveling alone, and many others have appreciated and used the rooms with the attached garages, which only cost another $6 over the already reasonable room rate, according to Serie. (Rooms are $69 a night at his Windom location.)

Like Kitchens, Judy Christian, owner of Stumpy's, wishes there were some way to put a motel downtown rather than on the north edge of town. And Chris Hallum, who called the whole plan a "genuinely bad idea", primarily because the motel would not be close to the bike trail, urged the council to wait until more research could be done.

"Get creative and work a little longer on it," Hallum said.

Mayor Les Ladewig responded to Hallum by saying that since first coming to Rushford in 1974, he has watched the city "studying where to put a motel-and nothing has happened." According to Ladewig, it's time the city stopped "kicking this thing around" and take advantage of the current opportunity.

Serie said he can appreciate downtown business people wishing a motel could be placed downtown; he also said he's not aware of any other developers interested in building a motel in town. He said he'd welcome the presence of other interested developers.

His own interest in the Rushford area came about because he and a dozen friends and relatives come to the Lanesboro area frequently for hunting.

Serie indicated that he may already have a buyer interested-"a young couple." His plan includes building a new home adjoining the motel so that a manager/owner could live on the premises.

Local builders would have the benefit of bidding all aspects of the construction, and Serie promises locals would get the job if they came within 105% of the lowest bid.

Serie is asking the city and county for a period of tax abatement to make the deal more feasible for a buyer. If the community center is not part of the plan, Serie says he will have to ask for more of an incentive. The community center located nearby would go a long way toward insuring the motel's success, Serie said.

Serie also clarified in a letter written to the council that day that the incentives he's seeking are for the eventual owner of the motel, not for himself. As the developer, he gets a flat fee of 10% for doing the architectural part of the project, the contracting, and the developing of the proposal.

Councilwoman Nancy Benson summed up her position by saying that the community has been working over twenty years to get a motel, and now there's finally someone willing to build one. Gordon Hatleli, representing the EDA, agreed.

City administrator Windy Block said he agreed with "someone on the EDA" who said, "'if we had the courage to buy it, we'd better have the courage to develop it.'" The city purchased the Himlie business park property shortly before last year's disastrous flood.

Benson says she honestly doesn't see the proposal as "detrimental to anyone, only as a positive for everyone in the community," including existing businesses.

The council, short by one member with Laura Deering's absence, kicked around a few ideas for motions and finally approved the site for the development of a motel, and approved the concept of a 400-seat community center for "somewhere" in town-possibly on the same site as the motel, but not definitely.

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