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New owner refurbishes Country Inn of Two Harbors

Since buying the Country Inn of Two Harbors in April, Keith Bakke has invested $500,000 in its remodeling, raising its rating to what he thinks is now a solid three stars. He is seen in the motel’s completed lobby area. (Steve Kuchera / / 4
All 46 rooms in the Country Inn of Two Harbors have been completely redone, from paint to carpeting to furnishings and linens. A king executive room is shown. (Steve Kuchera / / 4
The motel’s old sign, as seen in mid-June promises changes ahead. (Clint Austin / / 4
The motel’s new sign suggests a new look and a new chapter for the inn. (Steve Kuchera / 4 / 4

Country Inn of Two Harbors had been neglected for some time and in need of major remodeling.

It was exactly what Keith Bakke was looking for.

“That’s what appeals to me,” Bakke said. “No capital has been invested. If I go in, make the investment and give today’s travelers what they are looking for, I think we can do very well.”

The longtime hotelier had gotten out of the business six years ago, selling his last two hotels in Cloquet.

“I was just tired,” said Bakke of Duluth, who had operated inns for 25 years. “I sold at a

really good time. I took a hiatus from it.”

But a year or two later, he was looking for motel opportunities again, with a special interest in Two Harbors.

He noticed the Country Inn of Two Harbors go on and off the market during the past few years. The motel caught his attention again late last year. This time, he pursued it.

He bought it for $1.1 million from Ronald Kopeska, in a deal closing April 1.

According to Bakke, Kopeska and several partners had built the motel in 1993 as a franchise of Country Inns & Suites by Carlson Co. The Two Harbors motel left the franchise about a dozen years ago, but kept the Country Inn name.

As long as “Country Inn” name is connected with a city name, it isn’t infringing on the Country Inns & Suites trademark, Bakke explained.

By the time Bakke bought the property at 1204 Seventh Ave., he said Kopeska was the sole remaining owner.

Besides needing a complete makeover inside, some exterior sprucing up was needed. But the hotel had good bones, he said.

Bakke couldn’t wait to get started. He began ordering fabrics, duvets, chairs and other items for the motel before the sale even closed.

Interior renovations totaling $500,000 began in late April and took two months, during which the motel remained open.

All 46 rooms, the lobby, breakfast area, hallways and other public areas have been redone, including fresh paint, new carpeting and other flooring, furnishings, beds, linens, draperies and new 39-inch flat-screen TVs. Custom art work and historic black-and-white photos of Two Harbors dating back to the 1880s decorate the rooms and public spaces. And the complimentary breakfast has been expanded with more hot items.

The motel’s online exposure had been minimal, its website outdated. So a new website has been launched.

With the interior upgrades done, Bakke is turning his attention to outside improvements, including trim painting and additional landscaping.

“We resealed and restriped the parking lots so everything looks nice and fresh,” he said.

He figures the motel was a two-star motel; now it could be a very strong three.

 With the work of renovation nearing an end, the fun part of continuing to fine-tune the operation and having more time to interact with our guests begins, he said.

“It’s not just a new owner (here), it’s a new attitude,” he said.

He was sorry to hear that Mona Sinkey and Joe Hafner of Parkston, S.D., had a disappointing stay at the inn last summer, before he bought it. Their complaints — which led to the couple being sued by the previous owner — included outdated furnishings, old linens, no hot water, no working Internet and a less than helpful staff.

But, Bakke said, those complaints are all fixable, including better training for staff members.

“That’s what brought me back to looking at this hotel,” Bakke said. “Properties can be renovated, and that’s what we’ve done.”

He invites them back for a complimentary night’s stay to re-experience the refurbished hotel.

“I don’t enjoy hearing that anybody had a bad experience,” he said. “That reflects on the property today. I want everyone to have a good stay.”