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What do you guys think about this???

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Bonfires and s'mores may be replaced by spas and luxury hotel

By Kevin Giles, Star Tribune

Last update: February 18, 2007 – 9:35 PM

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Developer Larry Abdo of Minneapolis plans to build a luxury resort on the north portion of Camp Ojiketa, which was a summer camp for 80 years. Portions of the original camp would be preserved for an Ojiketa heritage center, and the south end would be a public park and city beach. The camp is on Green Lake near Chisago City.

Local

Bonfires and s'mores may be replaced by spas and luxury hotel

At wooded Camp Ojiketa near Chisago City -- once a place for nature hikes, arts and crafts, and songs around the campfire -- developer Larry Abdo envisions building a $70 million hotel and resort that would rival five-star hotels around the country.

"We're going to really celebrate that we're Minnesotans who love our environment," Abdo said of the "Preserve at Ojiketa" he's planning for a portion of the 80-year-old former youth camp. He has a purchase agreement with Camp Fire USA, the land's owner, for the property.

What Abdo calls the "quintessential Minnesota" resort would include more than 100 guest rooms, a corporate conference center, presidential suite, marina, spa, pool, two restaurants and a chapel for weddings. In the winter, guests could fish inside "opulent" ice houses on adjoining Green Lake.

Abdo said he wants the resort to emerge as the best top-class hotel complex in Minnesota. He also said that he wants to save as much of the Ojiketa spirit as he can and that he is buying the land with that in mind.

"If I can't make it a five-star hotel I'm not going to do it," said Abdo, who said he wants to honor the heritage of Camp Ojiketa. "We don't need another three-star hotel; we don't need another fishing lodge."

Abdo has been a developer for nearly 20 years. He and his wife, Caryl, own the Nicollet Island Inn, a restaurant and 24-room hotel they're refurbishing in Minneapolis.

Abdo's company, Anxon Inc., also has developed Six Quebec, a 20-unit condominium complex renovated from the former Firstar Bank Building in downtown Minneapolis. And it is converting the former home of Cafe di Napoli on Hennepin Avenue into 26 apartments.

Camp Ojiketa's heritage

In the years after World War I, Camp Ojiketa became a summer adventure for thousands of Camp Fire youth, most of them from the Twin Cities.

The camp has dozens of log cabins sprinkled through a forest on a hill overlooking the lake. Camp Fire USA decided to sell the property because of declining finances.

Abdo said he intends to retain the Camp Fire heritage by preserving a portion of the land and buildings, and creating an Ojiketa interpretive center. He plans to give the south end of the camp to Chisago City to become a public beach and park.

Abdo hasn't yet closed on the deal with Camp Fire, and he acknowledges that unexpected construction costs or changes in travel trends could derail the project. Still, he said he's on track to get it built -- and he has the confidence of Don Taylor, Chisago City's new mayor.

"I don't think they would spend that amount of money and time if they weren't really looking at it," Taylor said.

Hundreds of former campers originally joined with Chisago City officials to try to buy the land and preserve it as a regional park, but they said the price was too steep.

Abdo said he negotiated for the land "in the neighborhood" of the $5 million that Camp Fire wanted.

"While we're all sad that the camp needs to be sold, everyone recognizes that this is far preferable to a subdivision that will fill the camp with condos," said Andrea Platt Dwyer, chief executive officer of Camp Fire USA's Minnesota Council.

Few five-star hotels in U.S.

Tourism officials say the state has no hotels or resorts rated five stars, as designated by Mobil, or any five-diamond properties. AAA determines the latter.

"There are very few across the country," said Ken Myers, a professor of hotel management at the University of Minnesota-Crookston.

Earning a five-star label demands amenities such as fresh flowers and fax machines in oversized guest rooms, exercise spas with headphones that deliver select music, and high-quality restaurants with "exotic ingredients" and a dramatic presentation.

Abdo said he wants to create a hotel and resort with splendor similar to that of the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental, two New York hotels.

He said that he wants his wife and an interior designer to shop in Denmark and Sweden for towels, linen and other furnishings and that he would like "Preserve at Ojiketa" to become an attraction for music and the arts, as well as corporate retreats.

Kevin Lewis, vice president of convention sales at Meet Minneapolis, an independent tourism organization in the Twin Cities, said having 19 Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota would help a prospective project like Abdo's.

"If you're a five-star property and you can command the rates that people are willing to pay, then you're in the right market," he said.

Platt Dwyer said Camp Fire will work with Abdo and the Ojiketa Preservation Society -- former campers who organized to try to save the camp as public land -- to keep the Ojiketa portion as true to history as possible.

"We have to trust him that he's got good intentions," said Judy Montgomery, an organizer of the preservation group. "From what I know of him, he's a man of his word."

Abdo said he has no intention of ruining a place that thousands of former campers, including his wife and son, find dear.

"A real good developer doesn't violate the soul of the Earth," he said.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-7707 • kgiles@startribune.com

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This hole state is going to hell-in-a-handbasket!

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I grew up a block from ojiketa when we were kids we would sneak in there. The old cabins were pretty neat back then (25 yrs. ago). My neighbor had land that butted up to it and we would always see mega bucks around there. Man what a shame bet they bulldoze it all for the hotel? That property on the lake has to be more than $5 million theres gotta be 60-70 acres there.

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Well, one side of me says, "It's one business selling an asset to another business." That's what makes the business world tick. The other side of me says, "Yuck, puke, ick. Don't we have enough of this crud already."

It's funny reading the "nature" quotes in this story. "Doesn't violate the soul," and "add an interpretive center," and all the fluff some people are dumb enough to buy into. Dude, you're going to build a 80 unit hotel and add a bunch of traffic to the lake. Nothing more and nothing less. I guess the best way to sink ships like this is don't patronize them. Money talks.

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we dont need this crap................not a big old 5 ***** hotel

geez

too much

I live on a gravel road....and if I wanna go to the city???? I DRIVE SOUTH!!

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Kinda sad. I grew up not too far from there. I actually went to "Summer camp" there. Sad to see what's happening to that area.

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i have lived on green for my whole life and i don't remember the last summer i consistently so people at the camp. it is sad that it doesn't get used like it could.

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The thing that scares me is that it doesn't quite "fit the mold" of the character of this area as it is RIGHT NOW. When $hit like this goes up, it won't be long before the corporate chains come in and eat up all the little cafes, bars, bakeries, etc... Just go out to Minnetonka area, White Bear, Woodbury, and the like. I like the feel of rural small town America. I moved up here to escape the suburban sterility I grew up in. I will agree that a resort would, in my opinion, be a better option than a bunch of condos and townhomes. It's too bad that the price tag has to be so outrageous ($62,500.00 per acre??? wow.). A park would be ideal.

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I just went to the Chisago County web site and got some real figures: land area for the camp-31.07 acres. Appraised tax value of land and buildings- about 1.8 million. 5 million divided by 31- $161,290.32 per acre. Maybe the DNR or county can acquire the property using eminent domain under the auspice of turning a blighted and under-utilized property into a park for the people. There is a myriad of options that the county could pursue, such as some of the things that the developer would do, all while maintaining the character of the area. There are already several parks that require a sticker to access, and this could be added to it. Also, user fees for amenities could be charged (marina, wedding chapel, boat rentals, picnic pavilions, etc...). I am sure that these options have been explored, but it sounds like Camp Fire USA wants to make a nice inflated profit of the deal (they are a not-for-profit organization, by the way).

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The saddest part about this is I know that it is trying to be done on another local lake as well. How far north do we have to go to get away from this stuff? Harris here I come.

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I don't think it matters where you go. You'll find the same type of thing happening on Dead Lake near Pelican Rapids and in Armstrong Bay on Lake Vermilion. Developers want the land and county officials don't want to turn down the tax money. It's disappointing, and I don't know what we could do. I suppose you have to fight city hall.

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i like the lines john is thinking on. it would be great to have a nice park in the area on a lake.

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Amen to all who say no to the almighty dollar....

Country..........let it be as it is.....

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