Cobblestone owner eyes options

Monday, December 2, 2002

Harbor House may be an upscale eatery once again

Ideas of purchasing the former Cobblestone Inn and Harbor House sites for public park uses may have to compete with private development concepts, according to the owner of the two vacant lakefront landmarks.

The Cobblestone Inn, a historic ballroom at Lakeside, has been proposed as a lodge within a state park project being considered by local leaders and the Department of Natural Resources. The Storm Lake city government has proposed to buy the Harbor House site next to the municipal golf course to add to the city park system.

Dr. Wendell Petty, a former Storm Laker now living in Colorado, doesn't foresee either of those ideas being realized, but said that recent interest in both sites from private developers is more encouraging.

"I think the idea of the Cobblestone as a state park lodge is an interesting one, but I don't think it will ever happen. It would be a huge job, and I don't see the state government taking it on," Petty told the Pilot-Tribune.

He said that he has been contacted by several people interested in reopening the Cobblestone, most of them hoping to open it again as a ballroom.

"I have heard conversations with people wanting it to put in apartments or condos there, but I'd have to wait and see before getting into that. I would still prefer to see it preserved as what it was. The Cobblestone still has appeal as a historical asset and could be a huge recreational site for the whole area," Petty said.

Neither local or state officials have contacted him about the state park concept, he said. "If it were possible, I think the Cobblestone as a lodge could be a real good plan. I just wonder if it will be possible to do something so large."

While the city has made an offer on the Harbor House site, most recently home to a church, Petty said there are no negotiations going on. He called the city's offer "ridiculous" and said there was no point in responding to such a figure.

"There are offers, and then there are offers," he said.

City officials have been trying to buy the site for a year, hoping to add in into the "green space" parks system, with or without the unusual nautical-styled building. They have expressed a willingness to negotiate with Petty, but say he is not responding to their overtures. Petty responded that the city has tried to tell him the site is zoned only for agricultural uses. "The problem with the city is that they really don't want to spend the money. Their offer is inconsequential and they know it is. It's really hard to believe they are very interested based on that."

Meanwhile, Petty said he has talked with others about developing the site.

"There is a lot of interest. It is a beautiful location and always will be. Most of the people who have spoken to me about the Harbor House are thinking along the lines of an upscale restaurant, and I do think Storm Lake needs that. I think there is more than one person who would make an offer right now if we decide to go that way. It could be a lot of things though, and there have been some suggestions for community uses - one of them as a Santa Claus workshop," Petty said.

Locals had once seen Petty's desire to sell the two buildings as a stumbling block to potential developments. He said this week that he is no longer necessarily looking to sell them together. "That was just one idea, some time ago," he said.

Petty said his first wish would be seeing his two sites turned into something positive for the public in a community he still views as home. "I think Storm Lake should be coming of age. With the university and all of the other things going for it, there should be openings for really nice uses of these two buildings in very important locations," he said. "Wouldn't it be something to see them both get going again? All we need is someone with the time and energy," he said.

Until that happens, Petty said he will now concentrate on gathering interviews, photos and other materials to document the history of the area, especially the Cobblestone. "I think it's important to preserve the memories while we still can. I'd like to preserve all aspects of the history of the Cobblestone so that it will be available if something can happen there in the future."

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