Is a hotel in the works at Mississippi National?

RED WING — Wendell Pittenger's quest to purchase the 36-hole municipal golf course in Red Wing won't be completed until May 23, at the very earliest, but the 74-year-old Rochester resident has for months been engaged in talks to build a new hotel on the Mississippi National Golf Links property.

Pittenger, who operates four Minnesota courses — including Mississippi National in Red Wing and Willow Creek in Rochester — and hotel developer Joe Ross of Richmond, Va., met with Red Wing Planning Director Brian Peterson and Director of Engineering Ron Rosenthal in early February to discuss building a 120-room, all-suite complex on the 400-plus-acre golf course.

This week, Peterson downplayed the meeting, saying he takes part in hundreds of such exploratory talks each year. He also noted that there has been no further correspondence with the developer since then.

However, a data request of the city from "Save MNGL" shows that Pittenger sent a three-page letter to Red Wing City Administrator Kay Kuhlmann and Finance Director Marshall Hallock on March 8 to follow up on the potential hotel project. The letter says an independent study has been done and includes 20-year projections for the hotel's economic impact. The letter estimates that $169 million would be generated for the local economy during that span.

Pittenger, who is currently in Florida, said via email Wednesday that any comment on the situation "would be inappropriate for me," since negotiations with the city are ongoing. However, his letter to city officials couldn't be more clear.


"This hotel will be just the type of positive impact that the city needs to maintain its allure from locals and travelers," he wrote to Kuhlmann and Hallock, who comprise half of the city's ad hoc committee to deal with the golf course.

The other half of the committee — city council president Ralph Rauterkus and city council member Mike Schultz — appeared stunned when presented with Pittenger's letter on Tuesday. It was the first they had heard of the idea.

"I'd have to see what Wendell is really up to," Schultz said. "… The first thing I'd ask him is, 'What's going on here?'"

Kuhlmann said Pittenger has been pursuing ways to increase golf course revenue for years; Pittenger wrote in another letter than he's poured more than a million dollars of his own money into operations at Mississippi National. An on-site hotel has been particularly intriguing to him, Kuhlmann said, but she believes this option is now "off the table" due to a number of potential issues surrounding the project.

Peterson said construction of the hotel would be possible without Pittenger actually purchasing the property, but he also said the hotel project is unlikely to move forward in any case. The property is now serviced by a septic system; a hotel would need to be connected to the city's sewer and water system. In his letter, Pittenger requested "some help" to make that possible.

The most serious barrier, according to Peterson, would be land restrictions. The state donated a few parcels of land to the city in 1977 with the stipulation that it be for recreational use only. A hotel could not be built on that property.

Peterson also said the property would need to be reclassified to meet city zoning standards, while still with complying with the city's comprehensive plan. It's currently zoned as agriculture conservation, which strongly prohibits development, and the comprehensive plan requires that it remain open space.

Still, Save MNGL co-founder Erik Fridell calls this development "a big deal." For perhaps the first time since he became involved at the Feb. 14 city council meeting, a council member agrees with him.


"My philosophy on this is there's nothing we have to be hasty about," Rauterkus said. "That's why government takes so long to do anything. We want to make sure everyone has a voice."

The next time the potential sale of the golf course is scheduled to be discussed is during a public forum on April 19.

What To Read Next
Get Local