The idea of an up north vacation has changed dramatically over the past half century.
“Everybody wants to hit the ground running,” said Mark Ronnei, general manager at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. “It's not enough to have just a beach chair anymore.”
Grand View still offers those beach chairs on the north shore of Gull Lake for people who want to relax and soak up the sun, but a recently completed $55 million expansion project offers many more options for today's vacationers who like to be on the move.
Forty years ago, families were happy with a fishing camp type resort. Now they want lots of activities, and Grand View's newest offerings make the resort a regional player that’s also drawing national attention, Ronnei said.
“We now have a capacity of hosting 1,600 guests at one time,” said Frank Soukup, Grand View’s director of marketing. “I believe that makes us the largest traditional resort in Minnesota.”
One of the oldest resorts in the state and under the Cote family's ownership since 1936, Grand View recently opened the two-story North hotel, the NorthPark recreation center, and the Fairway Pines and Garden Cottages residential areas. The resort offers an intimate wedding chapel, rebranded the former Italian Gardens restaurant into a pizza place, and made improvements at Camp Lincoln (new recreation center) and Camp Lake Hubert (renovated kitchen and dining facilities).
Projects also include a wedding barn at Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona, also owned by the Cotes.
The $55 million comes from what Grand View invested and what people who bought the family cottages invested.
The original estimate was about five years to develop and build the amenities. Instead, all work was done in 18 months.
Expansion planning started about two years ago. Ronnei said the Cote family hired Tom Juliano as Cote Family Destination's CEO and gave the executive team direction that they wanted the resort to get bigger, grow business and be relevant for the next 40 years.
“The CEO came up and said, 'Give me every idea you ever had,'” Ronnei said.
They took seven major projects to the Cotes, thinking the family would choose two or three.
“So be careful what you wish for,” Ronnei said, noting the family embraced all the projects offered.
Luckily, Grand View had a lot of land being underused. “I'm happy to say we were patient about it,” Ronnei said.
“We needed to modernize our rental inventory,” he said. “When you reach 100 years old (which the resort did in 2016), you have a lot of stuff that needs to be updated.”
Ronnei said the entire project was fast-tracked because real estate started selling, and because the resort started building amenities first, like the NorthPark recreation center with indoor and outdoor pools and fitness center.
“People could see we were making a substantial investment in facilities,” Ronnei said, rather than just a promise of those facilities. “That gave a lot of credibility.”
So rather than drag out construction over five years, they decided to do it all at once.
“By next summer, there won't be any sign of construction at Grand View,” Ronnei said.
The North hotel features 60 guest rooms with sliding glass doors that allow ambient light and fresh air to fill the rooms, along with in-room amenities, including a king-sized bed or two queen beds, sitting area with workspace, master bathrooms and an open closet concept.
The hotel’s avant-garde design offers millennial families an aesthetically pleasing place to rest their heads after a busy day. The décor takes its cues from natural elements nearby, incorporating a dark, red oak shelving unit with a granite overlaid check-in desk, large stone fireplace and wood furnishings encouraging a style throughout the property that reflects back to the authentic roots of the original 1916 lodge and its rich history.
The hotel lobby features a social lobby lounge with Brew (coffee bar by morning and bar by night) featuring coffee, craft brews, signature craft cocktails and fine wines.
The North hotel’s Reflection Room offers a spot to lounge, host a breakout or entertain with a private chef dinner, wine or beer tasting while on the other side of the hall lies a more intimate “library” with fireplace and bookshelves.
The facility also has four high-tech meeting spaces, including a 1,936-square-foot conference room.
“To be relevant in the off-season we needed to be attractive to today's conference guests,” Ronnei said, noting they felt there was an unmet need at the resort for a high-end conference center.
The NorthPark recreation center, located just east of the hotel, features indoor and outdoor lap pools, an outdoor Jacuzzi, fitness studio, gym and kids club.
An additional lodging project is the Craftsman-style cottages overlooking The Pines Golf Course in the Fairway Pines community and cottages built in the former Garden Golf Course area.
Ronnei said the cottages have great kitchens, which today's vacationers want; ample space to sleep; and recreation aspects, such as ping pong tables, pool tables or movie theaters.
“The overarching design element was, how much fun can we have?” he said.
Another project planned for the near future is the Glacial Waters Spa facility, which will get eight new treatment rooms, an expanded women’s locker room and new relaxation area.
All of the expansion projects fit well with the other features that have made Grand View Lodge popular, like the eight distinct culinary concepts, the 2,500 feet of sandy beach, several tennis courts and 54 holes of championship golf.
The expansion is expected to generate 60 to 100 more year-round and seasonal jobs at the resort.
Pleased with projects
“It has been amazing. The guests love it,” Ronnei said of the projects, giving credit to the team that made it all happen.
Another plus was moving all employee accommodations and most of the administration offices away from the center of the resort, and making a new employee entrance.
“Other than more pedestrians, it really doesn't feel like there are a lot more people at Grand View,” he said.
He believed the projects would be successful.
“You think you know your customers, but you don't know until you pull the trigger,” Ronnei said.
“I think it's just a home run. It's the most exciting and challenging thing I've ever done,” he said of his 41 years working at Grand View Lodge.