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Pizza Ranch, Buffalo Wild Wings interested in Bemidji

"In six to nine months, there will be a Pizza Ranch in town somewhere."

This was a prediction made Monday evening by Russ McGinty in a Bemidji City Council work session.

McGinty, a Twin Cities-based real estate broker hired by the city, mentioned two restaurant chains by name that are interested in Bemidji and said more than a dozen hotel developers, too, are looking at potential projects along the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

Pizza Ranch, particularly, is very interested in coming to Bemidji.

"They will do something here," McGinty said. "They just need to find the right location."

Whether that location is in the south shore or elsewhere in the city limits is not known, but city officials did point out that Pizza Ranch most often wants to locate in an existing building.

"They've been trying to get here for a long time," said John Chattin, city manager.

Another restaurant chain interested in Bemidji is Buffalo Wild Wings, but McGinty said that chain now is focused on the Twin Cities market.

As for hotels, he said he has contacted 27 potential developers. Twelve said they were not interested in Bemidji, but 15 were interested.

But developers are having difficulty getting franchising and financing in place.

"The No. 1 issue for most people is financing," McGinty said.

He and the council discussed the potential of lowering lot prices, but McGinty cautioned against dropping them too far.

"You have beautiful property out there," he said.

Councilor Ron Johnson asked if McGinty thought it would be beneficial to sell one lot at a reduced price to get development action started.

Chattin said the city did that already, selling the 2.14-acre Nymore Beach parcel to The Edgewater Group (i.e. Rich Siegert) for $650,000 in 2009.

McGinty said such moves can help. He referenced a project in Apple Valley, Minn., that remained vacant for a while before the cost was lowered and Menards came in. Then, development spurred, and now there is a Menards, Sam's Club, Bed Bath & Beyond and a Kohl's.

One thing to keep in mind, he said, is that many restaurants will require exclusivity within the development. A Mexican restaurant will want to be the only Mexican restaurant. An Italian restaurant will want to be the only Italian restaurant.

Still, once some development occurs, it generally spurs other development.

"Restaurants for the most part like to cohabitate with other restaurants," McGinty said.

The potential selling of the city's south shore land is somewhat complicated. The Headwaters Regional Development Commission is marketing and promoting the land regionally, while McGinty is the real estate broker working on out-of-area developers.

Still, sometimes those roles overlap.

McGinty said the HRDC has been working with Carlson Companies on a potential hotel, but that firm, too, needs to find financing. Another possibility for development is through the Opus Group, which has also considered other city sites.

Also expressing interest in the land have been local and regional developers as well. Ray Brenny of Brenny Properties is planning a Holiday Inn Resort. Drew Olson with MoDevUSA is still working on Lake Bemidji Lodge.

Zorbaz on the Lake is proposed to be part of the Lake Bemidji Lodge project. But even if the Lake Bemidji Lodge project does proceed, Chattin said he believes Zorbaz still would be interested in the south shore.

Sheila Johnson, Chattin said, is a developer in the Bemidji and Walker area who has approached the city with a potential mixed-used development plan.

And Mitch Rautio of the Keg 'n' Cork has had occasional discussions with the HRDC about a restaurant and/or bar project, Chattin said.

None of the above projects is finalized; some do not even have official proposals. But their potential were brought up during the 25-minute work session as the City Council and McGinty discussed which projects he could potentially get a sales commission on if or when land is sold or leased.