DULUTH – A Silver Bay native who worked at Bluefin Bay while in high school is now the co-owner of the 36-year-old North Shore resort.
Joe Swanson and business partner Pipasu Soni have bought the family of resorts for an undisclosed sum in a deal that closed this week.
“It is a premier property in Minnesota,” Swanson said Thursday. “There’s a thrill that’s coming along with this, a feeling I know so many people have about Bluefin, and I get to be the carrier of that torch.”
Dennis Rysdahl, who co-founded the resort in 1984 and has managed it since then, will stay on as an adviser until an official retirement in the next few years.
“I’m confident we’ve selected an ownership team that is deeply committed to continuing the Bluefin Bay tradition of creating memorable vacation experiences for guests for years to come,” Rysdahl said in a statement.
For the past year Rysdahl had been looking for a new owner for the Tofte-area property, which has grown to three Lake Superior resorts with 229 bedrooms, three restaurants and a spa.
For Swanson, who first worked at the resort when he was 16, the goal is to continue what Rysdahl started with the leadership team he put in place.
“How do you take the perfect recipe and not mess it up?” Swanson said. “We know we have to be stewards of what is there.”
Swanson, 41, is a Twin Cities-based business adviser. Soni is chief financial officer for Winnipeg-based NFI Group, a bus and coach manufacturer. He previously served in several finance roles with U.S. Steel.
A number of North Shore resorts have traded hands in recent years amid a wave of retirements. Superior Shores in Two Harbors was sold for about $15 million earlier this year, while Odyssey Resorts traded hands in 2019. The Gunflint Lodge was sold in 2016, and Lutsen Resort traded hands in 2017.
Unlike hotels, resorts have seen business surge during the pandemic as travelers look for more secluded getaways.
“Advance bookings for summer and fall are coming in at a record pace,” said Frank Jermusek of SVN Northco, which brokered the Bluefin sale. “There’s something that happened during the shutdown where people want to get to remote, drivable destinations.”