City Manager asked council's permission to facilitate reopening of the Inn of Seven Gables and study creation of an event center.

City Manager Mark Kober, at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, asked for council approval to:

• facilitate the reopening of the Inn of Seven Gables,

• work with Orchid Inn management on upcoming events, and

• hire Oleson + Hobbie Architects to study the creation of an event center by either renovating the Orchid Inn building, or building a new structure by the Inn of Seven Gables.

The motel closed abruptly last November and has been tied up in foreclosure procedures. The Orchid Inn, owned by Al Schubbe, has closed as of July 14. However, Kober said that the city will see to it that all current bookings will be honored. In other words, as the financer of the Orchid, the city in essence now owns it and will open it for weddings and events that are on the book. “Al has agreed to help us manage those events,” said Kober. He said that city attorney Alissa Fischer is researching the best way to draw up an agreement with Schubbe for his assistance.

Prior to the city council meeting:

Both of these issues were presented to a group of community stakeholders last Friday morning. Kober, who hosted the group, said, “We invited these stakeholders to alert them to the needs coming in our city.”

Members of the EDA board, the hospital board and the PUC, along with several city councilors and a few local business owners, were in attendance when Kober explained what was happening with the two facilities and the impact on Sleepy Eye.

First of all, Kober mentioned that the city needs a motel and lamented that the Inn of Seven Gables closed last fall. He said that it is now possible that the property could be reopened, but that it may require the involvement of the city.

“It seems the lender is more inclined to work with the city than with a private investor,” explained Kober. He said that the property management firm that is currently overseeing the property could be contracted with to renovate and reopen the motel, thus making it more attractive to potential owners.

On the topic of the Orchid Inn, Kober pointed out that the Orchid has served as an event center in Sleepy Eye for many, many years, bringing people to town for weddings, dances, business meetings and various other large events. “But it is time to have a funeral for the Orchid Inn as a supper club and motel,” he said. “It’s never coming back.”

Kober said that in other Minnesota towns that have event centers, the center is owned and operated by the city. “From large cities such as Duluth to small towns like Springfield,” he said, “the city owns the event center and subsidizes its operation.”

Kober went on to present two ideas for a future event center in Sleepy Eye: (1) Build a new event center adjacent to the motel on Highway 14, or (2) Renovate the Minnesota Room portion of the Orchid Inn - keeping the kitchen, but demolishing the rest of the structure.

He gave rough cost estimates for each option and stressed that this project is not an issue that can be studied for a year, but something that needs to proceed as quickly as possible.

Kober said the only viable option for such a project is to pay cash. He told the members of the PUC and hospital board who were in attendance, that their funds would be needed to make this happen.

Everyone in attendance at Friday’s informational presentation seemed to view the ideas positively.

At the council meeting:

The agenda item read: “Permission sought to pursue reopening of Inn of Seven Gables, work with Orchid Inn management and study Event Center possibility for Sleepy Eye.”

Kober went over many of the points he’d made at the informational session on Friday. He said that the Orchid Inn was closed today (July 14) and that Mr. Schubbe would relinquish ownership to the city on Aug. 1.

The council gave approval to move forward on these issues, passing three separate motions. Kober said that the architects’ report should be available in a couple weeks and brought back to the council for a decision on the best way to proceed toward an event center for Sleepy Eye.