During the open forum portion of the City Council meeting, almost a dozen people came up to the podium with most speaking either for or against the second mortgage release of the Crookston Inn & Convention Center. Two owners of the AmericInn Hotel & Suites in Crookston and a longtime employee, the President/CEO of United Valley Bank in Grand Forks, new managers of the Crookston Inn, and a man who was hoping to build an events venue in Crookston all spoke out.
Mike Jacobson, AmericInn Hotel owner
Mike Jacobson, who has said before that he’s of no relation to Todd Jacobson, the former Crookston Inn & Convention Center owner, opened his time at the City Council podium saying he predicted a hotel closing about six or seven years ago when a new hotel was looking to be built. He said things haven’t been going so well for the AmericInn in Crookston and the Cobblestone, and thought there’s been a pull on the Crookston market.
“Crookston, in my opinion, cannot support a third hotel at this time,” Jacobson stated. “The bank (referring to the Crookston Inn’s bank, United Valley Bank) will find this out soon enough.”
Jacobson mentioned that his hotel was at 54-percent occupancy during January even with the Inn being closed and they need to be at around 58-percent to “make it all work” or “break even.”
“Everybody thinks these hotels are killing it, simply not true,” Jacobson continued. “Releasing their mortgage only completes the circle. Let it ride a few months. If the bank wants to open, they’ll pay. It’s leverage.”
Jacobson also questioned whether back lodging taxes were paid to the state before ending his speech.
Jeff Berning, AmericInn Hotel owner
Jeff Berning started his address by saying he didn’t like the process the council was using Monday night by voting at 6:30 at “one table” and then taking their positions and voting on the same thing again. He wondered why there weren’t other options for the Crookston Inn’s finances brought forward and said the release would be “coming out of someone’s pocket.”
“News on this came out on Friday night and to Monday approval is troubling,” Berning stated. “Whether it was intentional or not, it does not look good.”
Berning wondered why interim City Administrator Angel Weasner spoke about the Inn’s February reopening and their scheduling events before the vote was finalized by the Council and said it seemed like it was “maybe a done deal.”
“Let the natural foreclosure process play out, don’t try to skew it,” he added. “Others will gain much needed revenue.”
“You’re worried about saving one, but others are suffering, too,” Berning continued. “You’re hurting others. We’re asking that you let business take its course naturally.”
Barry Hanson, United Valley Bank President/CEO
Barry Hanson of United Valley Bank started off saying his bank did not borrow any money from the city and they are not asking for any debt forgiveness. He said, as of Monday, they are owners of the property subject to the first mortgage of $1.7 million and the city’s second mortgage.
Hanson said he’s working with a local couple to reopen with a rental option to buy, but he has to provide them with a clear title.
“Time is money, for you and for us,” Hanson explained. “We’re not looking for any forgiveness or special favors.”
“I’m not here to say my business is struggling so you should close yours,” he said, directing his comments to the AmericInn owners. “That’s a dangerous precedent. I empathize with these gentlemen.”
Mark Hoffman, developer from East Grand Forks
Mark Hoffman, who recently wrote a letter to the editor saying that a “back room deal” was planned with the Crookston Inn and City Council, and urged people to attend Monday’s Council meeting for more information, bluntly asked the Council during his time at the podium to “put the brakes on this.” Hoffman said he wanted to allow citizens to make more comments on the matter and for the Council to make an “intelligent decision” and not a “rushed decision.”
“Don’t do this, people,” Hoffman pleaded. “It will hurt a lot of people; You will get a storm of criticism.”
Laurie and Craig Stahlecker, new managers of Crookston Inn
While the Stahleckers are no strangers to the Crookston Inn as Laurie had previously worked under Todd Jacobson as the general manager, they felt compelled to also stand at the Council podium to voice their opinions on the Inn’s mortgage release after hearing from three opposed to the matter. Laurie said she and her husband were looking to lease the Inn and that the business is needed in the community.
“You should have seen the brides’ faces when they heard we were taking the business out of Crookston,” Laurie explained. “They wondered where else they were going to go.”
“Crookston can support three hotels, but it’s on us to do it,” she added. “We need to create our own events and we’re not asking the city to create events to keep us open. We’re asking for a year, that’s it.”
Stahlecker added that the Crookston Inn has been in the community “forever” and she worked there when it was the Northland Lodge. She pointed out that maybe she and Craig would buy it, but maybe not.
“If you make it go through a foreclosure, where will the money come from? An empty parking lot?” Stahlecker wondered.
Shortly thereafter, the City Council voted on the resolution to release the second mortgage with Ward 3 Council Member Clayton Briggs making the motion and Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee giving the second, followed by a 5-1 vote with At-Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten being the only vote against.