TOWER— The Twin Cities-based firm known as Your Boat Club is the new owner of the Standing Bear Marina in Tower. The boat club and the former owners of the facility, Ralph and Ellen Hilla, closed …
TOWER— The Twin Cities-based firm known as Your Boat Club is the new owner of the Standing Bear Marina in Tower. The boat club and the former owners of the facility, Ralph and Ellen Hilla, closed on the sale on Wednesday.
Your Boat Club currently operates 13 marinas across Minnesota, which serve members of the company’s boat rental club as well as the general public. Boat club principal Luke Kujawa said his company plans extensive renovations of the Standing Bear Marina, which has fallen into disrepair over the years.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but our goal is to bring it up to a truly Class A facility. We won’t settle for anything less,” Kujawa said. While the full renovation is likely to take a few years to complete, Kujawa said he expects to have the marina up and running by next spring. “From there, we’ll start building our clientele.”
Once completed, the marina will offer full service to the general public, including boat service and maintenance, docking, fuel, winter storage, a ship store, and daily boat and pontoon rentals. That’s in addition to the boat club service that the marina will offer to a growing number of members. The facility will offer a number of full- and part-time positions, including a site manager, boat service techs, and dock staff.
Small town start
While some business owners can be leery of operating in a small town, it’s second nature to Kujawa, who grew up in tiny Buckman, Minn., a town of 178 people not far from Pierz. His parents started Pierz Marine when Kujawa was young and he grew up in the business, selling his first boat at age 12. His parents eventually sold the business, by then known as Crystal-Pierz Marine.
But boats were in Kujawa’s blood, and he started Your Boat Club in late 2009 in partnership with a friend and with a loan from his father. They started with five of the boats left from his parent’s marine business and set up shop on Prior Lake. Pretty soon, they were taking their boat club concept to other parts of the state and it’s caught on, with nearly 1,000 memberships involving more than 2,000 families who regularly utilize the marinas that the boat club operates. The new Lake Vermilion marina will be the farthest north the company has set up shop, at least to date, and Kujawa said he’s excited to bring club members to the area. “It’s a big base of customers who will be able to come up and see one of the most beautiful lakes in the state for the first time,” he said.
Kujawa said he came to recognize over the years that the costs and hassles of owning and operating a higher-end boat can be significant, particularly when many boat owners only use their boats a few weekends a year. “Our ultimate goal is to take the hassle out of boating,” he said. The club maintains a high standard of member service, said Kujawa, and use boats from top quality manufacturers for no more than three years before swapping or selling them to replace with the latest craft.
The boat club concept has other advantages, particularly at a time when concern about controlling the spread of aquatic invasive species is at an all-time high. “Our boats never leave the lake,” said Kujawa, noting that every boat that doesn’t end up being moved from lake to lake helps reduce the risk of spreading invasive species. “With the boat club, we replace hundreds of boats that would be coming in from elsewhere. It’s one of the only 100-percent effective ways to slow or stop the spread of invasive species,” he added.
Sale of marina a key element in Tower’s renaissance
The renovation of the marina has long been a critical component of the overall vision of Orlyn Kringstad and Jeremy Schoenfelder and their Tower Vision 2025 development team, which has worked for the past several months to help finalize the marina sale and will maintain on ongoing business relationship with the boat club owners going forward.
The opening of a Your Boat Club marina typically increases the local demand for lodging as members of the club will visit for days at a time while they utilize the services of the club. Kringstad said the marina deal will further strengthen the case for bringing a hotel to the riverfront zone. Kringstad has already met with a prospective hotel development firm and he said he expects to renew talks with the firm now that the marina deal is completed.
The marina revamp will also improve the prospects for a second phase of town home development between the harbor and marina. Owners of town homes in a second phase could have easy access to boat slips or memberships at the Your Boat Club marina.
“Your Boat Club provides boat rentals and memberships with locations at a number of lakes in Minnesota. We believe that, with a successful closing and renovation to the marina, they will bring additional visitors helping promote the economic development of the area,” said Tower Vision’s Schoenfelder.
The sale of the marina came quickly following the issuance of a 30-day compliance order by the city of Tower that required the owners of the facility to make significant repairs to dilapidated docks and other structures, remove unpermitted buildings and dozens of old boats, marine parts, junk, brush, and other debris that the owners had allowed to accumulate at the site. The previous owners, Ralph and Ellen Hilla, had made significant progress in repairs and clean-up since issuance of the compliance order.
But much more remains to be done to bring the facility up to the standard of other marinas operated by Kujawa’s boat club, and it won’t happen overnight. Kujawa said he hopes to demolish the existing docks and canopies over the winter. Significant portions of the marina’s sea wall will also need to be removed and replaced, and that’s before the club begins work on the facility’s main building, which needs significant renovation. “No part of this is going to be easy,” said Kujawa. “There’s nothing involving a marina that’s ever easy.”
While there’s much work ahead, Kujawa said he’s eager to get going and excited to be back doing business in a small town. “We know it’s important for us to really become a part of the community,” he said. “We want to be a catalyst for greater prosperity in the whole area.”