Biz Buzz: A lot of changes in a year and more to come

When looking back, 2016 may seem a pivotal year as a number of businesses that have been sitting on the fence after expressing interest in joining the lakes area decided this was the time to act.


When looking back, 2016 may seem a pivotal year as a number of businesses that have been sitting on the fence after expressing interest in joining the lakes area decided this was the time to act.

Retailers and restaurants long established in the St. Cloud region who have eyed the Brainerd lakes area as a next logical move but pulled back from those thoughts during the Great Recession are now feeling confident enough to make the move.

A number of names have been bandied about in recent times, including Panda Express and Noodles. And now more recently Panera's name was added to the mix as the candidate, although not officially confirmed, for the planned restaurant south of Excelsior Road in Baxter in that prime real estate along Highway 371. Plans before the city of Baxter call for a 4,000-square-foot, sit-down restaurant 3,000-square-foot retail store is proposed next door, potentially a Sleep Number store.

Familiar names were part of remodels, redevelopments and relocations.

Holiday Inn Express expanded and remodeled in 2016 adding more rooms, a technology upgrade and laser tag. The remodel, completed in June of 2016, added 21 new rooms.


Other remodels included Cub Foods in Baxter. Redevelopments included Royal Tire in Brainerd and the end of Bonanza as it was torn down to make room for a new RiverWood Bank near Target.

Relocations included the Hockey House from West Washington Street to downtown Brainerd, Sullivan Candy & Supply Inc. moved from Front Street to Washington Street in northeast Brainerd. And Crazy Jim's Army Surplus store, which started in downtown Brainerd before moving out to Washington Street in northeast Brainerd made another move to west Washington Street next to the military recruitment offices. Other businesses moved or opened in new space along Highway 371, such as Imgrund Autos and High Rollers, Hot Rods and Classics.

New entries included Mattress Firm in Baxter and Tim Hortons in Brainerd, which has opened to a steady influx of customers. Bette Mae's joined the Westgate Mall taking a large space and bringing in unique inventory for kitchens, gifts and toys.

There are multiple developments already confirmed to start in 2017. As a reminder:

• Wayzata-based HJ Development confirmed Dick's Sporting Goods, T.J. Maxx, ULTA Beauty and PetSmart are going into a 90,000-square-foot retail center to be constructed on 8.87 acres between Costco and J.C. Penney Co. in Baxter. Openings for all but Dick's Sporting Goods are planned for the fall of this year with the sporting goods store opening in the spring of 2018.

• HJ Development also plans to build a 7,000-square-foot retail strip center nearby on the southwest corner of Highway 371 and Glory Road by Wal-Mart and across the street from Olive Garden. Construction of that building is also expected to start in the spring of 2017.

• Oppidan, owner of the retail space that is home to Gander Mountain in Baxter, plans to build two new buildings in the parking lot facing Highway 371 in front of Gander Mountain this year. The proposal included Aspen Dental and Caribou Coffee. Names of the possible restaurants were not disclosed. The plan is for two retail centers, one with 9,000 square feet and one with 6,000 square feet. One building would include three tenants of two restaurants bordering a single retail store. The southerly most building would house Aspen Dental and the Caribou coffee shop with a drive-through window on the south end. In addition, Oppidan stated there are plans to redevelop the Gander Mountain site as well in the near future.

• Construction is ongoing for the the Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter, along with the construction of the Dennis Drummond Wine Company south of Brainerd. Ground was broken for the wine company and work on the site to include a bistro and event center began in the summer of 2016.


• The Wells Fargo Bank building by Menards in Baxter was torn down to make room for two planned retail sites as part of the Northwoods Crossing development. Plans call for two restaurants without drive-thrus (with 40 seats each), a 25-seat restaurant with a drive-thru and a 20-seat coffee shop with a drive-thru.

Brewery options expanded throughout the lakes area with redevelopments such as Roundhouse Brewery opened in the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd. The Local 218 restaurant opened in the former Chopper's on Mill Avenue and the 612 Station opened on Front Street, expanding eating options in Brainerd. The Brainerd Industrial Center continued to redevelop the former paper mill. The former Iven's on the Bay was renovated into Northern Cowboy Flame N' Brew, which opened this past fall. Takedown Gym announced a planned expansion.

In addition, there were strong signs in manufacturing such as Avantech, which completed construction of its new facility in the Baxter Industrial Park in 2016. Other manufacturers reported continued growth and strong business trends from Gullview Technologies in Baxter and Clow Stamping in Merrifield, among a host of others. One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing continues to be finding the employees needed for demand.

And this list just touches on some of the changes in the lakes area in 2016 and anticipated in the new year, bringing more jobs, retail options and restaurants to the region to build upon its draw as a micropolitan.

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