HACKENSACK -- The proposed four-screen theater project in Hackensack will go on with or without JOBZ designation, developer Dennis Wickham said late Monday after returning from a vacation in Mexico.
The only variable could be whether the feasibility study he engaged Monday shows something unexpected, he said.
He said the project study to this point shows a profitable enterprise regardless of whether JOBZ tax benefits are considered. Having those tax breaks mainly would enable hiring at least one additional full-time employee and give more flexibility in project design, he said.
Weiser, Mueller and Associates of Brainerd, architects for the project who will oversee construction, conducted preliminary research through the movie industry to determine there was more than adequate customer base within a 25-mile radius of Hackensack for the theater, Wickham said.
The feasibility study a Wisconsin firm will conduct now will provide more concrete data to substantiate that, Wickham said. Several banks expressing interest in financing the project require the feasibility study, he added.
Of the criticism coming from St. Paul last week, Wickham said he has no interest in becoming involved in politics he sees as designed to make Gov. Tim Pawlenty look bad. He is not as interested in the governor's image as he is in developing something to make Hackensack look attractive.
"Nobody asked me what I plan to pay my employees when they called the theater jobs 'low-paying,'" he said. His intent for the part-time student employees is to work with all three area school districts and with home-schooled children to offer training in accounting and materials management while they work.
This will give the students a job skills training experience for their resumes when they leave high school, as well as what he called a decent wage while they work, Wickham said.
Hackensack probably does not have the employee base to support a Marvin Windows-sized industry, he said.
Having theaters designed to seat 440 or more people a day seven days a week in the city, however, might be an additional amenity, which would make smaller industries the city's population can support think about locating here, Wickham said.
JOBZ is one of the best things ever offered to outstate Minnesota, he said.
Wickham said he is less concerned about what people in St. Paul think of his project than he is about whether he has support from his own community.
Hackensack Chamber of Commerce Treasurer Sue Larson said late last week that organization "certainly will back (the Wickhams) on this project."
Mayor Erick Hedren, who called the state-level criticism a "political football," said the city plans to continue to process Wickham's JOBZ application and support it.
"You've got to give local folks flexibility," he said of the state government critics. He also indicated he believes the JOBZ application the city will submit will show the theater will have a major economic impact on Hackensack.
He indicated neighboring landowners have been calling him to inquire about other projects for their properties within Hackensack's JOBZ zone area.
The Cass County Board was scheduled to discuss the evolving JOBZ rules and application requirements, as well as this project, Tuesday morning at its meeting.
County Administrator Robert Yochum said before Tuesday's meeting the latest information he has received from the state indicates approval will not be required from the county or Region 5 when the city submits its application for this project to the state.
Both, however, may offer support through comments at an expected Hackensack city public hearing or through written letters of support, he said.
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