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Bemidji councilors reject Zorbaz land offer

BEMIDJI — Bemidji city councilors Monday rejected a proposal from the Zorbaz on the Lake restaurant to buy south shore land.

Zorbaz founder Tom Hanson came before the Bemidji Economic Development Authority to make the land offer and discuss his business model. Councilors, who make up the BEDA, voted 6-1 to reject the offer, with at-large councilor Jim Thompson voting in favor of the proposal.

Hanson offered $7 per square foot for the lakeshore land on the west end of the Sanford Center parking lot, which would have ended up being about $350,000, said Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel.

The councilors met behind closed doors to discuss Hanson’s offer before rendering their vote.

“In general, the discussion was that we felt the offer was not acceptable. It was lower than what we are hoping to receive for that property,” Mayor Rita Albrecht said after the regular council meeting Monday night. Thompson said he thought the offer was “fairly reasonable.”

Hengel said one of the most important issues on the south shore development is creating more traffic and activity.

“Given that you remain the property owners, you stand to benefit from that traffic,” he told councilors. “(Zorbaz) brings a name brand to Bemidji that is known for doing exactly what we need to have on the south shore.”

“We’re an incredible traffic builder,” Hanson added later.

Hanson requested that the payment be deferred for five years or until the south shore beach redevelopment is completed —whichever takes longer.

“Council just did not want to do that,” Albrecht said.

The city has plans to redevelop the beach adjacent to the lot Hanson proposed to buy. But when, and how that will happen has yet to be seen. Later this month, the council will receive estimates on how much it will cost to clean up the beach of wood chips and other debris.

Hanson said having a beach next to his business is essential. All 11 Zorbaz locations are on northern and central Minnesota lakes, according to the Mexican and pizza restaurant’s website.

The Bemidji location would have been a 6,500 square-foot restaurant, with a 2,500 square-foot patio. It also would have employed 35 to 45 people and been open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., according to a proposal summary handed out before Monday’s meeting.

Zorbaz came to the council in 2010 with a proposal to build on the south shore. That proposal stalled because the council was reluctant to change city ordinance to allow restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m.

But councilors voted later that year to allow restaurants the 2 a.m. option.

Hanson told councilors Monday that his offer was final, but left open the possibility that he would come back in a few years.

Bemidji Pioneer

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