A major tourist attraction for the area, Frost Fire Ski and Resort, is currently in the process of a purchase agreement between long time owner Judith Johnson and a newly formed non-profit foundation.
By Melissa Anderson
The Pembina Gorge Foundation, will be established to purchase and operate Frost Fire and explore strategic developments in and around the Pembina Gorge.
“The establishment of the Pembina Gorge Foundation would not only secure the Frost Fire property for generations to come, it would also become a major hub of activity and recreation opportunities to share the scenic wonder of the gorge,” Dawn Keeley, a member of the Red River Regional Council/Pembina County Job Development Authority, said.
“As a nonprofit foundation, it would be able to attract grant and philanthropic dollars as well as any net revenues to be reinvested in the mission developed by the foundation,” Keeley added.
The Pembina Gorge Foundation held their first meeting on October 27, 2016. The initial board members include Sandy Crary, Senator-Elect Janne Myrdal, Senator Tom Campbell, Rachel Gornowicz, Mike Jacobs and Duane Littlejohn with the plan to add more board members in the future. To keep one of the areas most high profile attractions running smoothly for years to come.
“Frost Fire is an integral asset to capitalizing on this economic development strategy,” Keeley said.
Frost Fire, located in the scenic Pembina Gorge, is the crown jewel of the Rendezvous Region. Since its opening in 1974 by Richard and Judith Johnson, it has grown to serve as the hub of the Pembina Gorge to tourists, recreation enthusiasts, site seers, birders, and more.
After owning and operating the resort for more than 30 years, the Johnsons decided to sell Frost Fire. Originally, the Johnson’s approached ND Park and Recreation to purchase Frost Fire. Over the past five years and the passing of Richard Johnson, Judith and area organizations looking to keep Frost Fire open and running have reached this point of turning the operation and management over to a foundation.
“This is going to be wonderful opportunity for Frost Fire to expand,” Judith stated, “Frost Fire has potential that I believe can be reached under the Foundation’s management.”
Upon successfully transferring ownership, Judith Johnson along with her family would like to work with the Foundation for about a year to see Frost Fire expand in directions they feel are most beneficial and in a direction they believe coincides with what Frost Fire has been and is for the past 42 years. The Johnson family would also assist with and give direction in regards to the ski area and the summer theater.
“I definitely want to see Frost Fire continue and expand, especially within the Gorge,” Johnson stated, “The plans that ND Park and Recs have for future development of the Gorge make the marketing potential of combining all that the Gorge has to offer just a wonderful idea.”
Building upon the 42 year history and vision held by Richard and Judith Johnson, acquiring the property and continuing to build out this legacy project for northeastern North Dakota is essential.
Frost Fire has an established business track record, brand identification, and has more than 20,000 visitors annually. The region as a whole offers significant opportunity for tourism and outdoor recreation development as a vital economic development strategy.
“With unique natural amenities, we can build a fantastic, envious place to live as well as seize even greater market opportunities with tourists which support local retailers, dining and lodging facilities and service providers,” Keeley explained, ”This development strategy compliments traditional primary sector development and community development.”
Most of the motivating factors for travelers to North Dakota are related to outdoor activities of which the Pembina Gorge meets many of the types of activities. The Rendezvous Region meets nine of the activities within the top ten motivating factors for visitors to tour North Dakota. Those activities include visiting a state/national park, historic sites, Native American sites and museums, hiking and backpacking, wildlife watching, sightseeing tours, eating at unique, local restaurants, and shopping.
“In other words, we have the key amenities that motivate travelers to our region and with continued investment and growth, we can increase the economic impact to the region,” Keeley stated.
There are approximately 1.2 million people living within two hours of the Pembina Gorge. For Keeley and the Pembina Gorge Foundation, those 1.2 million people are potential guests who might consider visiting the beautiful region of the Pembina Gorge in order to spend time with their families, enjoy fresh air and time outdoors, or simply delight in the amenities offered in surrounding communities.
“That means, for a huge number of people, our region could be an easy day trip, or even a weekend trip to a fun and inviting four-season regional playground,” Keeley said.
With so many possibilities and opportunities for tourism, population and economic growth all represented in the future of Frost Fire, the organizations involved in the newly formed Pembina Gorge Foundation is working on achieving several goals before fulfilling the ultimate goal of transitioning Frost Fire under their management. At this time, the Foundation has executed an option to purchase with Judith Johnson, the owner of Frost Fire and is hopeful to acquire the property by the end of January 2017.
To move this project along as quickly as possible, the Foundation is pursuing multiple goals simultaneously:
• Establishing a 501c3 status and ND nonprofit corporation status; establishing mission, vision and value statements that support preservation and enrichment of the experiences the Pembina Gorge Recreation area provides.
• Appraisal and assessment of property condition.
• Pursuing philanthropic gifts of $1 million for purchase, capital improvements, and working capital.
• Pursuing philanthropic gifts totaling $1 million to establish an endowment which would provide perpetual support of approximately $50,000 annually for programming, scholarships and operational support for the foundation.
• Pursuing grants totaling $500,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program as follows: $125,000 from the Red River Regional Council, $125,000 from the North Central Planning Council, and $250,000 from the Governor’s Fund for Community Development.
• Identifying private public partnership opportunities with ND Parks and Recreation to development the maximize recreation four-season development at the Frost Fire property.
• Plans to engage in strategic planning for the Frost Fire property for the coming months to analyze existing operations and identify new development potential.
“We are currently in the process of completing a feasibility analysis/due diligence on the property,” Keeley said.
This analysis includes three components – an engineering analysis on water, electrical, and mechanical systems and structural, updated appraisal of the property, and legal counsel to assist with establishing the Foundation.
These three components are estimated to cost around $25,000 to complete. This budget has been funded by the support of the following organizations with commitments of $5,000 each: Pembina County Job Development Authority, Cavalier County Job Development Authority, Walsh County Job Development Authority, Grand Forks Growth Fund, and the ND Parks and Recreation Department
“These commitments are an illustration of the regional nature and support for this project,” Keeley noted.
All this work should be completed and reported to the foundations Board of Directors within the next 30 days. This work is being done in order to achieve the primary goal of the Foundation acquiring Frost Fire.
“The fundraising goal is $2.5 million which includes the acquisition, capital investment in the property, working capital, and the establishment of an endowment for perpetual funding for the Foundation and its mission,” Keeley stated.
Over the next few months, the Foundation will host special events and fundraising activities as well as invest time in strategic planning for the facility’s potential. They will not only review historic operations of ski, snowboarding, tubing, and summer theater but also consider amenity enhancement such as a restaurant, beverage service, cultural events, conventions and more.
Once Frost Fire has transferred ownership, the Foundation will encourage private and public sector development in and around the Pembina Gorge which honors the natural aesthetic as well as provides attractive amenities for potential visitors.