A lot of dirt is moving in Moose Lake these days.

The dust had barely settled on the city’s newly reconstructed hospital and a McDonald’s restaurant when news came regarding several new business moves that should have significant economic development implications, primarily for the Minnesota Highway 73 corridor on the city’s south side.

The Alco store on Moosehorn Drive was set to close its doors over the weekend after seven years in the community, to be replaced at the end of March by a Shopko Hometown store - part of the Shopko chain, but a smaller footprint designed for smaller communities.

Shopko officials declined to comments on their plans, but Moose Lake City Administrator Pat Oman said the company will move into the existing 30,000-square-foot building with no additions planned, and it is expected to employ 20-25 full- and part-time workers.

“We’re excited about the prospect that some of the Alco employees and managers will be able to secure jobs there,” Oman said.

Oman said the Shopko store should be restocked more frequently than the Alco store was. The owners of the Alco chain declared bankruptcy late last year, and all Alco stores have closed or will be closing soon.

“This Alco store here was one of that company’s most successful stores,” Oman said, “but unfortunately there weren’t any other Alco stores in the area, so the truck didn’t come here as frequently, and the shelves were sometimes pretty empty. Shopko has several other stores in the region, which should improve deliveries of merchandise and transfer of products.”

Ely, Two Harbors, Aitkin and Spooner also have Shopko Hometown stores.

More development

The Kwik Trip chain - quickly expanding in the Northland - plans to begin construction of a new convenience store and gas station in Moose Lake’s Opportunity Business Park, between the new Shopko store and Interstate 35. Oman said the normal turnaround time for construction of a Kwik Trip store is about eight weeks, which would put that business’ start date near the end of June.

Moose Lake’s Subway restaurant - which has adjoined the Little Store located near I-35 for many years - will move to a new building that the owners plan to construct on one of two lots they own nearby on Park Place Drive, the new city street leading to the Days Inn (the former AmericInn Lodge and Suites) and McDonald’s.

A purchase agreement is expected to be signed by Sue Vinje Trucking of Superior within the next 30 days for the former Superior Auto Auction building near Alco, which Oman said has sat empty for five years.

“The bank currently owns it, and they’ve had a lot of offers on it prior to this,” Oman said. “But this is the first one the bank has accepted. We hope to work with the purchaser to see what more that piece of land can be, since it includes 40 acres. Even if Vinje Trucking decides to go into the building itself, there are many other pathways they could follow with the rest of the land, including a possible business park.”

Future opportunities

Oman said the city is working with the Moose Lake school district to consider additional uses, such as single-family and multifamily housing, for the 175 acres south of the Alco store where the district plans to build its new school, slated to open in 2017.

In addition, Oman is working with the Legislature to ask that the state consider deeding 75-100 acres of state-owned land located on the north side of Highway 73 to the city for further economic development.

A private developer also is considering a multi-family housing development on six acres located across from the new Dollar General store, which opened its doors along the Highway 73 corridor in 2014.

“We’re trying to be very proactive (in our economic development), and there’s still lots of buried fruit out there right now,” Oman said.

He went on to say that the city is reviewing the idea of a possible annexation of Moose Lake and Windemere townships, which he said would increase the size of the city to 6,000 to 7,000 people.

Oman said that unlike the city of Cloquet with all of its manufacturing, the city of Moose Lake aims to be more of a tourism, retail and government hub, as well as what he terms a “technology city,” with many of the amenities already in place, including a new fiber-optic network.