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Holiday Inn Express announces expansion

BAXTER – The Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express is adding 21 rooms in an expansion plan, which includes an addition to the hotel’s water park.

Wes Hanson Builders broke ground on the $2.5 million expansion Wednesday. Mounds of earth are piled behind the hotel with a chain link fence on the perimeter. Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn General Manager Tom Vasecka said they are being helped by the mild and downright warm weather, with temperatures again expected to rise to the 50s for a several day stretch, as they begin to place footings for the expansion. With the addition, the hotel will offer 119 rooms. The Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express, along Highway 371 in Baxter, is now a decade old. Vasecka said they work with the InterContinental Hotels Group and it was time for a facelift. The work to be done this winter includes remodeling of the existing rooms, as well as the expansion.

Vasecka said improvements include more robust technology in a secure network to accommodate guests who are not online all the time. The hotel already provides WiFi for guests, but now will be able to provide even more access as the number of devices each family brings on a vacation increases. Vasecka said when the hotel was built, guests really weren’t bringing additional electronic devices such as iPads and other tablets. Now families have an average of three to four devices that need to connect to the Internet. Room renovations will continue to include the up-north theme with modern luxuries and colors of butterscotch and burgundy. The remodel will take existing room down to the shell with new draperies, carpet and paint. The hotel put in new beds, mattresses and box springs, earlier as well.

Vasecka said the 119-room hotel was in the original plan to be constructed in phases, but after the Great Recession, the additional rooms were put on hold for a longer time than first anticipated. Once the recession took hold, there was a conventional wisdom the lakes area may be overbuilt with hotel rooms. But in recent years, Vasecka said the market has been growing.

“There has just been a lot more activity in the Brainerd lakes area,” Vasecka said. On weekends, he said, they’ve had to refer prospective guests to St. Cloud or Little Falls, when all the area rooms and hotels were full.

Vasecka said that’s been a growing issue for the last 18 to 24 months. And, he said, predictions are for continued gradual growth for the next two years, particularly at the height of the summer season. The Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn caters to families on the weekend and has business clientele midweek with the summer bringing a mix of both together. The Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express employs 50 in Baxter.

The water park additions is expected to add 3,000 square feet. The water park has 28,000 square feet now with a 1,000-square-foot arcade. Beyond the water features, the hotel is in development to include a laser tag arena in a multi-level area with its own check-in area and reception for the hotel’s water feature. The water park is open to guests and the community. In addition, Vasecka said the are moving toward a more green and environmentally friendly operation with a reduced carbon footprint. Efforts to that end include LED lighting and more recycling.

The facelift will include an update for the exterior. The Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express has three owners. Dutch Cragun, of Cragun’s Resort, is the primary owner. Chad Goedderz is the corporate finance officer with ties to Bloomington and Crosslake and Mike Pohlcaro makes up the trio.

Plans are for a March completion of the construction so the hotel renovation and expansion is ready for the new season. The hotel will be open during construction. Vasecka said they’ve worked with a design team to make sure there is a minimal impact to guests. RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or