ELY – A $1.5 million federal grant paved the way for the town of Ely to build a new regional trailhead facility at the west end of town. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced the award on Tuesday, which helps fill a funding gap that has grown as construction costs have risen on the project.
“It’s a big deal,” Ely Mayor Roger Skraba said in response to the announcement.
City officials hoped to have used state bond funds last year to complete the project, but construction bids far exceeded budget and the project was put on hold until more funds were available. available.
“The last offer we had was not a good offer. He came very high, so we went for more money,” Skraba said. “Senators Klobuchar and Smith stepped up and got us the extra money, and that will fill up with our state money.”
The grant will provide amenities such as restrooms, vending machines and common areas designed to accommodate tourists to the area and its local businesses. The EDA investment and $1.5 million in public funds are expected to create 75 jobs, retain 50 jobs and generate $500,000 in private investment, according to a press release.
“We have to see how it works, but we will probably still go for (construction) bids this year,” Skraba said.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said the funding represents the Biden administration’s intent to help the tourism industry recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. “President Biden recognizes the vital contribution that the travel and tourism industry makes to the American economy,” Raimondo said.
Skraba could not promise that construction would start this year.
“We’re going to have to talk to contractors. If the prices go down, we’ll probably be able to move forward as soon as possible. But we may not be able to bid until next year. We will see. Once we have silver in hand, we are golden. It’s a big project and there will be a lot of moving parts.
The two Minnesota senators were also touting economic news from the Ely area. “Northern Minnesota has incredible natural beauty that attracts people from all over the world,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “This funding is a real win-win, creating well-paying jobs and helping locals and visitors enjoy the outdoor recreation Ely has to offer.”
Senator Tina Smith added, “Minnesota is blessed with pristine natural landscapes and I am always thrilled when we are able to make them more accessible and inviting. This investment, made possible by the US bailout, will help support over 100 jobs while boosting the tourism industry and local economy in Ely. This facility will also be a great addition to the Mesabi Trail, which showcases the Grand Rapids area in Ely.
The Ely Regional Trailhead Facility project is funded through the EDA’s competitive $240 million American Rescue Plan Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation program. The EDA awarded $510 million in grants to all 50 states and territories in 2021.
Both programs are designed to accelerate the recovery of communities dependent on the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors. In May, the EDA officially closed all of its US bailout programs for applications. Funding for the $3 billion program will be provided on an ongoing basis until the end of September.
Skraba said he, the city council and city staff will discuss the project and the financial windfall at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 19.
“We will have to start the bidding process again. We need to know if previous contractors who bid on the project are still interested. There is a special design for the building. We will try to use their expertise to put this together.