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Waterfront hotel project moves ahead

Plans for a waterfront hotel in Superior moved two steps closer to reality this week. 

On Tuesday, City Councilors adopted the project area for the planned Hampton Inn and Suites, and Wednesday, the Plan Commission approved amending the city’s zoning ordinance to allow hotels as an acceptable land use in a waterfront district. A public hearing on the change is planned for Sept. 16 during the City Council’s regular meeting.

“It’s also going to correct a waterfront district issue we have with Barker’s Island Inn,” said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director. “They are also in a waterfront district and this will make them conforming as well.”

Serck said the hotel was constructed before Barker’s Island was defined as a waterfront district, and the hotel was grandfathered in when the district formed.

“Now we’re going to be making them a regular use for a waterfront district, as well as the project we’re working on now,” Serck said of the change’s impact on Barker’s Island Inn and Conference Center.

While the decision to amend the city’s zoning code drew little public attention, opponents and proponents of the Hampton Inn and Suites lined up to share their concerns and thoughts with the council Tuesday night.

Thirteen residents living in the area signed a letter, sharing their concerns about the impact the new hotel would have on the area — the letter was distributed to councilors before Tuesday night’s meeting.

The letter cited lacking transparency in the process because residents weren’t notified before all public meetings, and a lack of studies to determine the impact of the project. They objected to the use of the term “blight” and the use of public funds to finance a private project with the creation of a tax increment district.

The city met all legal requirements for public notice of meetings concerning the hotel. Serck said in some cases, notices were sent to area residents when they were not legally required.

“We understand that the city of Superior strives to promote economic growth and development in the area,” the letter stated. “However, the proposed ZMC hotel and TID plan raise significant concerns from the residents.”

They are concerns not expressed by the greater community.

Douglas County Board Supervisor Charlie Glazman, a member of the Superior Public Museums board, said he supports the project. Glazman said Superior has many wonderful assets — like its museums — that will benefit from an increase in revenue collected through the city’s hotel/motel tax. Right now, he said, the city is losing business to Canal Park.

It will allow the city to reinvest in tourism, said Dave Minor, Chamber president and chief executive officer. After 15 years working with the Superior-Douglas County Visitors and Convention Bureau, he said he knows Superior is losing business over the bridge with people looking for the kind of accommodations the Hampton Inn would provide.

Ken Goldfine, chairman of the ZMC Hotels board, said the Hampton Inn is a top-end, mid-market hotel without food and beverage.

“It will be as nice as the Inn on Lake Superior,” Goldfine said. “It’s the nicest in our company.”

Hibbing, Minn., was facing a similar situation to Superior, according to Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata. He said the city didn’t have hotel space needed to host minor hockey tournaments and was losing business to neighboring communities.

Now ZMC Hotels is constructing a similar hotel in the Iron Range community.

“We have a good working relationship with them,” Cannata said of ZMC. “They stand by what they say … they’re actually on schedule to open in December sometime … It’s a great investment for the city of Hibbing to be working with ZMC.”

The Council voted unanimously to approve the project area.