Architect chosen for new Isanti Liquor Store: Construction expected to be completed by Thanksgiving

This map shows the approximate location of the new Isanti Liquor Store, in relation to being located near O’Reilly Auto Parts and Coborn’s. If all goes according to plan, the store will be open by Thanksgiving.

By Thanksgiving 2021, a new, easily accessible from Minnesota Highway 65, Isanti Liquor Store is planned to be open after the council accepted the proposal from Widseth Architects for overseeing the project.

Two architectural companies, the other being Brunton, presented their proposals to the Isanti City Council at its Jan. 5 meeting.

“We would want to begin right away in design and development,” said Michael Angland of Widseth, noting that the city had already done a lot of legwork and provided a lot information to the firm to put the proposal together. “I’m excited for the project because you guys seem very energized by it, very motivated, and to have your liquor store manager on board as part of the team, I feel like we could get off to a very good start.”

He noted his firm has a lot of experience fast-tracking projects and are comfortable with the time line. 

“I do have the liquor store manager in the audience and I care about what the liquor store manager has to say,” said Mayor Jeff Johnson, inviting John to ask questions. “This is your store and I intend to keep you until you retire, anyway.”

Liquor Store Manager John Jacobi said Widseth explained their plans well, noting he and Finance Director Mike Betker spoke about the importance of easy in, easy out for curbside delivery. “That’s so important to us – I want to get that traffic and I want to get that curbside rolling,” he said. “I mean, that online presence for us is going to be huge. And, I know it’s obviously, right now with the pandemic, it’s trickles, but if we can catch that traffic and get those people in and out.” 

Betker asked Angland if Widseth was amicable to placing a cap on the fee they would be charging, as it was not clear in the proposal, with which Angland agreed.

Betker also asked how the cost per square foot was so different for each proposal. 

“The one factor from an overall site design and preliminary floor plan, it’s a rectangle, so in my opinion, there’s some opportunities to have that cost come in between $175 and $200 – very preliminary, but I can understand how they’re apples and oranges at this point,” Angland said. “It’s really not based on anything that’s been thought of or developed with detail, at least not for me.”

Council Member Steve Lundeed again reiterated his desire for a pitched roof, noting flat roofs are not suitable for winter in Minnesota and will end up leaking sooner or later. “I’m also concerned with cost and being smart, looking at numbers, looking how things are going to get done,” he added, explaing that an interior designer is not needed and the manager already knew what he wanted on the inside.  

Introducing Cory Brunton, who had previously provided the council with an estimate before the council decided to get a second opinion, City Administrator Josi Wood explained the firm had been given the opportunity to rework the numbers with the new information provided by the council. 

“We are excited to be a part of this conversation with you and giving us an opportunity to explain little bit more about our proposal and how we’ve kind of looked at the project,” Brunton said. 

When originally introduced to the project, Brunton was approached to provide a cost per square foot recommendation, he explained. “Of course, you never want to throw out the Taj Mahal number,” he said, noting the lower cost structure would be a precast structure with a low slope roof. “As Council Member Lundeen has mentioned, he’s had some challenges with low sloped roofs in Minnesota, but as far as costs are concerned and being able to give you the best deal for your buck, if it’s the direction you go, placing roof top units on a slope based roof with a simplistic precast exterior that meets your city planning and zoning ordinances for materials and colors is one of the best products you can certainly propose for a project like that. 

“We bring the tools that will be utilized to protect you guys in this project to the table day one,” Brunton said. “We feel that makes us a little bit different. Since costs were a concern, that’s one of the reasons why we brought the concept together for the possibility of precast. You’re going to spend more money on material with precast, but you are going to spend way less money on labor.”

He gave examples of numerous projects the firm has completed that came in significantly under-budget.  

Council Member Jimmy Gordon wanted to know a true cost-comparison between the two firms, as the proposals were presented in different manners. 

“I think the problem here is that, originally, this was sent out as a litmus test for, ‘hey, what should we budget,’ and we kept helping and we kept helping, and now we sit here with, and Mike’s probably sitting there cringing, too, we sit here with our insides exposed as to what we were assuming were some of the things that you wanted without having any guidance to do it,” Brunton responded. “I think the problem here is that we’ve put together cost estimates based upon a lot of assumptions with no guidance that drives the construction costs along with the fee.” 

 City engineer Jason Cook of Bolton and Menke explained that both of the firms present had different elements in their proposals. He noted that both proposals come in with a ballpark figure of $2.5 million dollars for construction costs of the new liquor store and similar fees. However, he also said Brunton’s time line for any building aside from precast would not be completed by Thanksgiving. So, that one being removed, does make them more or less in the ballpark of $2.5 million construction estimate. “With Brunton, my firm and myself work with them. I trust them,” Cook concluded, noting he felt it would be the best product for the city, and he had not worked with Widseth.

 Ultimately, the council approved going with Widseth on a 4-0 vote, with Council Member Paul Bergley having dropped out of the meeting via Zoom.

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