The Iron Range wrapped up 2017 with a flurry of demolition, building and job-training projects designed to end blight and sprinkle economic development across communities in the Northeast pocket of Minnesota, state officials announced Friday.
The projects are the latest good news for the Iron Range, which is recovering from a two-year downturn in the iron ore and taconite pellet industry that dominates that part of the state.
The downturn temporarily idled seven ore-processing factories, caused layoffs of 2,000 workers and forced local residents to keep wallets shut. All but two iron processing businesses have resumed production.
The Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) on Friday announced seven economic-development projects not tied to mining that it hopes will help energize towns and small businesses in the region:
• The demolition of a One Hour Photo/Golden Boy Market in the city of Virginia that was abandoned eight years ago and the demolition of an abandoned former 1970s Holiday Inn (later a Days Inn) in Eveleth. The former Eveleth hotel sat on 7 acres on busy Hwy 53. Its demolition should spur interest from property developers seeking a highly visible location, IRRRB officials said.
• The teardown of a vacant, water-damaged Suburban Lanes Bowling Alley in Hibbing, opening up new development options, said John Tourville, the town’s economic development professional.
“The owner has been approached by several potential buyers over the years, but the building itself had become the obstacle for a successful sale and subsequent new development,” Tourville said. Now the city hopes the site will support a “multi-outlet retail site” or other business.
IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips noted that the demolition projects are a good thing. “Abandoned commercial sites can have a very negative impact on small communities,” he said. “Our agency’s grant program lessens the financial burden on taxpayers and local units of government that are striving to demolish these buildings and prepare the way for redevelopment that is essential to the vitality and economy of the region.”
• Expansion and relocation of the Freebs Fitness & Tanning business in Hibbing to a 3,100-square-foot building a mile from its old site. The IRRRB provided an equipment loan guarantee that helped the business expand.
• Improvements to the Itasca County Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Grand Rapids because of a new Business Energy Retrofit grant program by the IRRRB and Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency. The money will help Habitat electrify its warehouse, add blow-in insulation and install energy efficient lights.
• A new roof, insulation, on-demand hot-water heater and more improvements for P & D Sewing Center in Grand Rapids because of the energy grant program.
“The [energy] grant paid for about 20 percent of [our] total renovation. We could not have completed the project without the grant,” said P & D co-owner Tanya Jackson. “We just received our first heating bill and it was 50 percent less than comparable bill cycles.”
• Demolition work at the Hometown Focus building in Virginia, which is helping to pay for renovation into offices for the new headquarters of Northland Capital Management, which is relocating from Hermantown. Renovations should be completed by August 2018.
• A new welding program run by Advanced Minnesota and Mesabi Range College for individuals looking to obtain a certificate of completion and immediately start a career as an entry-level welder. Classes in the Accelerated Welding Institute span eight to 10 weeks and could start in January, officials said. For more information, prospective trainees are asked to call 218-735-6174.