BAXTER -- That lug of a towering lumberman's days on the corner of Highway 371 and 210 are numbered.
Paul Bunyan Amusement Center owner Don McFarland said he has a purchase agreement to sell the eight-acre amusement park site. McFarland said his plans are to move the animated Paul Bunyan to his Nisswa water park along with Babe the Blue Ox and a few of the park rides.
The animated Paul Bunyan, an attraction at the 1948 Chicago railroad fair, has been an area attraction since June 1950.
"He's the only thing in the area children remember," McFarland said. "Paul Bunyan knew their names." The attraction once drew 125,000 people to the park. This year McFarland said 75,000 people came to see Paul Bunyan, paying a $10 admission price. McFarland said taxes and insurance of $150,000 per season is pricing him out of business. And the animated man sits on a valuable corner in a changing landscape.
McFarland said the sale plan includes the Paul Bunyan Inn, which McFarland said would be demolished. But he said the sale would not include the Paul Bunyan Bowl, which has been in the progress of a major remodeling effort.
The amusement park would operate through the summer of 2003. McFarland said the sale is expected to be completed by Oct. 1, 2003. McFarland would not reveal the name of the buyer, but he said the company works with Kohl's, a department store that competes on the level with Herberger's and J.C. Penney. Kohl's is headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis.
Laurie Hemish, Nisswa planning and zoning administrator, said McFarland has not done any of the procedures yet that he needs to complete with the city for the move. Hemish said McFarland needs a conditional use permit and because he cannot fit Paul Bunyan on the water park site, he would have to buy additional land. Hemish said there are also no city sewer hook-ups at the proposed site. Hemish said McFarland has not begun formal discussions.
McFarland said he has received a non-refundable down payment and will get a second such payment in April. Even if this deal is not completed, he said there are two to three other buyers.
"It's going to be gone no matter what," he said.
As of Monday, Crow Wing County reported no sale had been recorded in the auditor's office or the recorder's office. And Baxter reported that no permits have been taken out in regard to the amusement park site.
McFarland said he has been trying for 15 years to do something about the high taxes on the property without success. McFarland said he has not had help from Brainerd or Baxter or the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce.
"People from every state and 14 countries they came to see Paul Bunyan and talk to Paul Bunyan and no one in Brainerd really cares about that," McFarland said. "I'm almost 70. I really don't think I have to fight that battle every year of losing money just to keep Paul Bunyan there."
Lisa Paxton, chamber chief executive officer, said Paul Bunyan has been a tradition for families and children for generations and the chamber has actively promoted it through publications and its Web site.
While he will relocate the business out of the Brainerd/Baxter area, Paxton said she is glad he will remain in the lakes area.
"We look forward to working with the McFarlands to help promote their new venue," Paxton said. "It's unfortunate a tradition like the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center is faced with such high taxes and short season."
Paxton said not long ago Paul Bunyan was one of the only things in that area of Baxter, but the change is a sign of the commercial growth all around them.
"So you can understand the challenges they are facing," she said.
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