Paul Bunyan's owner, Don McFarland, said today he told Brainerd chamber officials the giant lumberjack statue would not be part of a tourism welcome center that's scheduled to open along Highway 371 next year.
The key stumbling block in the relocation of Paul and Babe statues to the welcome center, McFarland said, was the fact that the amusement park and its employees would not be a part of that plan. The concept of locating the giant statues six miles south of Brainerd at the welcome center was mentioned favorably by McFarland and Gov. Tim Pawlenty when the state's chief executive flew to Brainerd to urge McFarland to keep the northwoods icon in Minnesota.
"We're not going with them," McFarland said today of the chamber because of the 100 or so jobs that would be eliminated. "Brainerd has had enough hits lately."
Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce CEO, said she came away from a discussion today with McFarland with the impression that no final decision had been made and that the chamber would talk with McFarland on Thursday.
"The decision is the McFarlands' decision," she said. "The chamber and the community will disappointed that we've missed an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for the area if Paul doesn't go to the welcome center. The chamber is continuing to move forward with building a world class welcome center with or without Paul."
The welcome center will involve the chamber, the DNR, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the State Patrol and other entities.
McFarland said he'll talk with the chamber but unless it incorporates the amusement park into its plans it won't get Paul.
"I'm not going to put 100 employees out in the street," McFarland said.
McFarland said this Old Farm, a museum and farm attraction on Highway 18 east of Brainerd, will be the likely location for Paul Bunyan while Babe is slated to be kept near McFarland's Baxter bowling alley.
He said an agreement with members of the Rademacher family that owns This Old Farm was about 90 percent complete.
"I think it's about as good as we can come up with," McFarland said.
The This Old Farm museum is owned by Dick Rademacher. The 180 acres of land surrounding the museum is owned by his children, Al, Gary and Dale Rademacher and Lois Smude.
Al Rademacher said today the Bunyan statue would be donated to a nonprofit organization they're associated with -- the Nokay Lake Growers Association. The rides would be purchased from McFarland at a price yet to be negotiated if the deal is completed.
The Paul Bunyan Amusement Center opened at the intersection of Highways 371 and 210 on June 29, 1950.
One other option for Paul's future was apparently eliminated Tuesday at the Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Gary Walters said at the meeting that he did not know This Old Farm was interested in the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center in Baxter.
Walters said he was involved in the plan to move the statues and the rides to BIR. He said preliminary discussions took place to have the county park department oversee Paul Bunyan Amusement Center at BIR.
Walters said after learning that This Old Farm is interested in the park that the county would not pursue it.
"Government is a safety net," he said. "It is not in the business to compete against a private business."
Walters said he became involved in the search for a home for the statues after being approached by a few individuals he would not name. He said they asked him if there was any county property available for the statues as well as for the park. He thought it was a great idea to keep the entire park together and researched the plat books for land, but found none.
Later he was contacted by Marty Carlson, owner of MG Carlson Construction, who has done projects for BIR.
Carlson talked of BIR's interest in offering the county a gift of almost 10 acres of land -- with what Carlson called an estimated land value of $1.1 million -- near the gate of BIR to give Paul Bunyan and Babe a home, along with the park.
McFarland, owner of Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, said Tuesday the future home was still unclear. He said no proposals for the park have been accepted as final.
At first McFarland planned to donate the statues and close the park. Two days ago it was learned that he preferred that the statues go along with the park if there was anyone interested.
McFarland said he was trying to protect jobs of his more than 100 employees.
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