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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Visitor center could open this fall

Trailhead facility part of multi-phase west end development

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/7/21

ELY – Travelers entering Ely on Highway 169 this fall could be able to stop into a brand new visitor center in the shadow of a freshly-painted water tower emblazoned with the city’s new …

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Visitor center could open this fall

Trailhead facility part of multi-phase west end development


ELY – Travelers entering Ely on Highway 169 this fall could be able to stop into a brand new visitor center in the shadow of a freshly-painted water tower emblazoned with the city’s new logo.
Council members Tuesday authorized soliciting construction bids for the centerpiece of a multi-million-dollar redevelopment project for the city’s west end, and gave the go ahead for the water tower repainting project despite exorbitant cost estimates.
As much as $3 million, in two separate state bonding allocations, aisallocated for what has been dubbed the “west end trailhead project.” The first phase, at $1.3 million, was completed last year and included infrastructure and road construction at the city’s west entrance.
A ribbon cutting was held during a regional ATV supporters convention last fall at the site of the trailhead visitor center. That same group will gather in the region again this fall and expect to utilize the new building.
Another $1.5 million in bonding money was awarded last fall for the project’s second phase that includes the construction of a visitor center at the trailhead and additional infrastructure work, according to Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski.
The trailhead will serve as a multi-faceted entry point for the Mesabi Trail, Prospector Loop, and Taconite Trail. The building will house public restrooms and there is talk of the Ely Chamber of Commerce moving into the facility. Plenty of parking will be available for vehicles and trailers.
Predesign documents have been submitted to the Minnesota Management and Budget office, and architectural renditions were released late last week.
“We also have our grant agreement in to MMB and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) for approval,” Langowski said. “We want to be ready to start advertising (for construction bids) as soon we get the comments back. We have a couple of weeks ‘buffer in our schedule. Our hope is still to have the project substantially complete by fall when the ATV Minnesota State Convention is here.”
The ATV convention is planned for Sept. 17-19.
The third phase of the project includes a major expansion involving the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital. That leg of the project is stalled and hospital officials have been slow to respond to inquiries on their plans. The third phase vision, as reported last week, includes an extension of Pattison Street behind the hospital, new housing, a new ambulance service facility, and development of the former city garage property.
Council members unanimously approved a low bid of $79,800 for the city’s water tower painting project.
“We were hoping (to spend) $50,000, based on an estimate we had a couple of years ago,” Langowski said.
He said he considered rebidding the project because of the surprising high cost quotes received.
“I’ve never had good experience with rebidding a project unless you change the scope,” he said. “There is not much scope we can reduce.”
Champion Tank Services, of Maple Grove, submitted the low bid. Four other bids included Classic Protective Coatings, $81,000, TMI Coatings, Inc., $82,450, Central Tank Coatings, Inc., $90,500, and Maguire Iron, Inc., $122,900.
The city’s new logo will be added to the water tower.
“That cost is an $8,000 portion of the project, and from what I understand, the paint is a significant cost for those colors,” he said. “I recommend we award it and figure out how to make it happen.”
Langowski said the water tower needs to be painted this year.
“We are starting to get some flash through with some rust,” he said. “I would hate to let it go too long and then have a total overall coating project.”
He said the water tower was last coated in 2001.
“If we can keep repainting the epoxy coat, hopefully we will get another 15 to 20 years out of it,” he said.
Other business
In other business, the council took the following action,
• Approved a summary of the performance reviews of the department heads, Langowski, Rachel Heinirich, library director and Chad Houde, police chief. All scored above average in all areas of job performance.
• Accepted the resignation of Ely Fire Chief Tom Erchull. “I no longer have the time or the passion to do the job effectively,” he said. Erchall will remain on the all-volunteer firefighting force. The job will be posted internally.
• Reinstated John Zobitz as First Assistant Chief until a new fire chief is hired. Zobitz resigned his position last month.
• Accepted the resignation of Ely police officer George Burger as firefighter and first responder.
• Accepted the resignation of Roger Nyquist as city infrastructure worker, effective April 9.
• Approved holding a special meeting on Thursday, April 15 to canvass the vote in the special primary election.
• Approved the equipment replacement purchase of a skid steer for $58,410.
• Approved a residential rehab loan for Madalynne Reese and Kathleen Quigley, 1139 E. Washington St., for $10,000 for insulation work.
• Approved the application from the Chamber of Commerce for the Blueberry Art/Festival and Harvest Moon Festival this year.
• Approved a temporary liquor license for the Ely Folk School for an event on May 12 at Semer’s Park.
• Authorized a raffle permit for the Ely Rotary Club.
• Approved a liquor license for The Chocolate Moose restaurant at 101 N. Central Ave.


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