New hotel eyed on Falls’ side

Emily Gedde

By this time next year, guests may be settling into rooms at a new hotel located along Rainy River.
Shawn Mason, International Falls Economic Development Authority director, announced Monday that BriMark Builders LLC will begin the public process of working with local zoning and planning commissions to develop a four-storey, 88-unit Cobblestone Hotel & Suites on east riverfront property adjacent to the Voyageurs National Park Headquarters facility.
“These developers see the wisdom in this location, and that it can be a great magnet to our area and help us generate more traffic, more tourism,” she said.
While the developers weren’t at Monday’s meeting, Mason said they were ready to announce the project and get the public process started.
She noted everyone involved is optimistic, but there are several hoops to go through before moving dirt begins.
The end result, however, will be worth it, said Mason.
Plans for the 88-unit facility include standard, suite, and extended-stay rooms.
In addition, it would offer full-service amenities, including a restaurant and cocktail lounge, a pool facility consisting of a large pool, children’s pool, hot tub, and game room, a 300-person banquet facility, an on-site fitness centre, a business centre, and complimentary breakfast.
The project’s price tag is estimated to be about $11 million-$12 million, Mason noted.
She added no tax increment financing or grants have been requested in regard to the project.
The developers will have investors pay for the construction, she said.
Taxpayer dollars may come into play in the future when Falls city council determines how to finance the paving of Voyageur Lane—the road that runs through the east riverfront property.
“The city has the easement to have the lane there,” Mason said of the unpaved road, adding it is equipped with utilities.
“Voyageur Lane will need to be paved eventually and city officials will need to determine how that happens,” she noted.
In addition, Mason could not disclose many details regarding the actual property the hotel would sit on.
But she did say it was privately-owned by Kathryn Volin of Horseshoe Bend, Idaho.
“[Volin[ has a vision that the property will be fully-developed with hospitality,” Mason said.
Alex Chaput, vice-president of development for BriMark Builders, which is based out of Neenah, Wis., said the site in International Falls is expected to be a flagship for the company.
“We haven’t built a hotel with everything that’s going to be in International Falls,” Chaput noted.
Cobblestone has been deemed the fastest-growing hotel franchise in America, with 68 hotels open/under construction and 50 under development, said information from Chaput provided by Mason at Monday’s meeting.
The Cobblestone footprint in the U.S. Midwest is strong with the exception of Minnesota and South Dakota, it noted.
The company’s has intentions for heavy development in Minnesota, starting with International Falls.
And making this the signature site happened a little by accident, Chaput admitted.
“I was actually driving through International Falls to go to a different town for a project,” he recounted.
“I kept thinking, ‘These guys need another facility.’
“So I called Shawn and it’s just gone full steam ahead,” Chaput added. “That was only two months ago.”
When it’s all said and done, Chaput said he has visions of the facility providing more of a destination for travellers rather than a stepping stone in their vacations.
“We’re hoping our amenities entice people to stay more than one night,” he remarked.
Despite plenty of economic excitement following Monday’s meeting, the project still has its skeptics, especially those who say they’ve heard this before.
So what makes this time different?
“Nothing has ever been formally announced before,” Mason said.
“There’s been a lot of talk but never an announcement with intention.”
Still, Mason said she’s aware of where the skepticism comes from.
A few years ago, a developer had “serious interest” in the same piece of property and began the process to secure it for hospitality purposes.
For about four years it seemed as though a project would surface from discussions, meetings, and general back-and-forth, Mason noted.
“He ended up having to step out of the project for a variety of personal reasons,” she added.
“We were disappointed.”
But as hopeful as Mason and others were that a project would develop then, nothing was ever made formal.
This time, a sketch has been released and intention to develop has been announced.
“This is the first company that has told me to announce this so they can begin the public process,” Mason said.