By Samantha Erkkila, Entrepreneur Fund
“The St. James Social is kind of this magic of what happens when you take 100 years of design layers, you peel it back, and you try to reimagine the space for the modern-day traveler,” said St. James Social founder and owner Annalisa Bermel.
With a focus on connection and community, Bermel is rehabilitating the historic 140-year-old building at 200 Rittenhouse Avenue in the heart of Bayfield, Wisconsin, into a boutique hotel with a main floor social lounge and lobby bar. She expects doors open and rooms booked this summer.
“I think when you’re traveling it’s important to find that connection to an authentic sense of place,” Bermel said. “That’s what the St. James Social aims to offer.”
Sense of Purpose in Bayfield
Bermel grew up visiting Bayfield with her family and fell in love with the town along the south shore of Lake Superior at an early age.
“This was my special place,” she said. “I didn’t want to live my whole life to just retire here. This is where I wanted to raise my family, grow my roots, and just live life to the fullest.”
Five years ago, she had the opportunity to become a full-time Bayfield resident. With a background in real estate development, she accepted a position at Wild Rice Retreat and moved her young family north. During her time there Bermel said she had a great sense of purpose and knew her time as a real estate developer in Bayfield was just beginning. She just had to figure out her next step.
That next step was St. James Social.
“We’re kind of in this cool renaissance where younger families are moving here, there’s newer ideas and there’s this changing of these old buildings into new hands, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Bermel said. “So, I picked the building that had the most potential, and it was the one that was the biggest eyesore in the community.”
Bermel, who has a master’s degree in real estate development, has been a part of numerous development projects in the Minneapolis area, but St. James Social is her first project from start to finish that’s 100 percent her vison. When complete the building will include eight boutique hotel rooms and a sauna upstairs, a rooftop deck with views of Lake Superior, and a community social lounge and lobby bar on the main floor.
Entrepreneur Fund Complements Multiple Lenders
When the Entrepreneur Fund first connected with Bermel in December 2022, she already had a complex set of financial contributions for her $4.1 million project. She had a senior lender and historic tax credit investor in Bremer Bank.
“Going through a historic tax credit project is no small feat,” she said, noting that not all lenders have an appetite for historic projects. “It’s a process, but when there’s 40% of your development dollars up there for the taking, I’m going to go chase after that.”
She also had property assessed financing through PACE for qualified energy efficient upgrades, a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Community Development Investment grant, a Façade Loan through The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NWRPC), and qualifications for additional USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant dollars to install solar panels near her rooftop patio.
But three weeks before the deal was supposed to close, a lower-than-expected appraisal of the property left a gap of $385,000.
“It got complicated quickly,” Bermel said. “But I tried to not lose sight of where we were headed. Because by this point, I could feel this project in my bones. It had to happen. Bayfield needed this.”
Entrepreneur Fund credit manager Zack Hoy and Bermel connected through Ken Pearson at NWRPC. Shortly after, Hoy and EFund loan officers were able to step in and assist Bermel with the funding gap.
“Annalisa is very detail oriented, and it was amazing to see how she was able to use the available resources, the programs, the funding sources, and put it all together and facilitate that,” said Hoy. “She has great project management skills, and it made me feel more confident as a lender to come in as a partner.”
As a nonprofit lender, the Entrepreneur Fund is unique in that it doesn’t compete with fellow lenders, but rather partners with them to find creative solutions to get capital into the hands of small business owners to bring a project to life. EFund’s approach to lending puts a large focus on the entrepreneur’s character.
“We’re really betting on the person,” said Hoy. “With Annalisa and seeing the other funders and how they believed in this project too, it just makes you feel more comfortable as a lender to want to all in when you see somebody like Annalisa, who is all in and willing.”
“I like to say that EFund came in as the last saving grace, and the last puzzle piece that suddenly just made it all fall together and feel really easy,” said Bermel. “They didn’t come in and try to compete with all of this other complicated financing stack, but rather they came in and were a supplement and were like, ‘Hey, we’re your partner in this. This is a great project, and we know that you need us to get it done. Let’s do this. We’ve got no time to waste.’”
Attracting Year-Round Business in Northern Wisconsin
Not only does Bermel want to succeed as a business owner, but she is driven to see her chosen community of Bayfield succeed, too. Throughout the St. James Social project, she’s hired and worked with local women entrepreneurs and subcontracted with nearby Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa artists and craftsmen.
She’s aware that Bayfield is primarily a summer destination for travelers. It’s a narrative she’s intent on changing. Bermel hopes that by keeping the St. James Social doors open year-round and committing to employing people with a living wage it will have a ripple effect on local businesses.
“If we are one place on Main Street that keeps its doors open 365 days of the year, that’s going to help the retailer across the street from me, that’s going to help the grocery store, that’s going to help the gas station, it’s going to help the ski hill. We’re all so interconnected,” she said.
Hoy agreed. “A project like the St. James Social is going to make a major impact in Bayfield. It’s a small community and it will help spark more businesses to do something similar.”
And in five years, Bermel is hopeful that St. James Social is doing just that while also being an iconic destination in northern Wisconsin.
Already named as one of the Top 23 Places to Visit in the US in 2023 by Conde Nast Traveler, “I see it featured in travel magazines around the country,” she said. “I see people coming to explore and seek out the magic of Bayfield and that we get to be that first chapter of their stories of them falling in love with this area.”
As the Entrepreneur Fund expands further into northern Wisconsin, we continue to support and help foster a more diverse regional economy. We are committed to working together with our local partners and finding solutions to help small businesses succeed.
Interested in booking a room at St. James Social? July 2023 booking will be available soon. Join their waitlist to stay connected.
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