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IRRRB set to OK $6.2 million for new event center at Giants Ridge

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board is expected to approve $6.19 million Monday for a new event center at Giants Ridge Ski Area near Biwabik.

The IRRRB-owned ski and event facility received $3.8 million from the 2014 Legislature as part of the state bonding construction bill, with the total project cost expected to be just under $10 million.

The new event center, which Iron Range officials have pushed for years, will replace a 30-year-old “outdated” and energy inefficient main building at the ski hill. Supporters say increased revenue from new business at Giants Ridge is expected to create 28 new full-time jobs and help retain the 120 employees currently on the payroll.

The new main chalet also will include a winter sports school, summer and winter equipment rentals, banquet and conference space and food and beverage “venues,” according to plans.

Supporters of the project note that Giants Ridge attracts 100,000 visitors annually and that the new facility will pump nearly $8 million into the county’s economy when completed. But some critics note that the facility has repeatedly required a subsidy. For 2014 Giants Ridge saw $4.5 million in revenue but nearly $8 million in expenses.

In other major projects on the agenda for Monday’s board meeting in Eveleth, the IRRRB will help spur reconstruction of the Vermilion Hotel in Cook, which was destroyed by fire in September.

Cook Hotel reconstruction

The board is expected to approve a $130,000 grant to the city of Cook for infrastructure, utilities and site work at the hotel site. The $1.5 million, 13-unit hotel project is expected to create six full-time jobs.

The hotel that burned last year dated back to the 1940s.

IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich also is asking the board to approve a $350,000 grant to the city of Virginia to accommodate the $8.9 million consolidation and expansion of Ulland Brothers Construction.

Ulland Brothers, which provides services to the construction industry, plans to construct a heavy equipment maintenance garage and warehouse facility, and a new administrative office building. The project, which is forecast to create seven new full-time jobs, includes a new 41,150-square-foot heavy equipment maintenance garage and warehouse facility, and a new 6,200-square-foot administrative office building.

The IRRRB board will review $1.875 million in funding for several proposed Iron Range Higher Education programs. The allocations include $1.9 million for the Northeast Higher Education District; $1 million for the Iron Range Engineering Program; $615,000 for the Healthcare Simulation Center of Excellence program at Hibbing Community College; and $220,000 for the Biochemical Systems Engineering program at Itasca Community College.

“A highlight of this year’s budget is that a significant amount of funding is allocated for our regional education systems,” Sertich said in a statement. “This gives us the opportunity to invest in innovative projects that will help us grow the next generation of residents and our workforce.”