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Local jewelers seek variance to build new store

MJ Architectural Studios of Bemidji has designed a new building that would relocate Ken K. Thompson Jewelry from its current downtown location, 419 Beltrami Ave. NW, to the new standalone building at 1080 Paul Bunyan Drive NW. The site plan would reduce the amount of impervious surface on site and close two accesses to Ridgeway Avenue Northwest.1 / 2
Ken K. Thompson Jewelry purchased the former site of Northland Community Bank about five years ago. It has now proposed a new standalone jewelry store. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI - Ken K. Thompson Jewelry plans to relocate and expand.

The local business, which began in 1935 in a one-room watch-repair shop, has storefronts in downtown Bemidji and in Paul Bunyan Mall. Its owners have submitted plans detailing a new standalone building at the corner of Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest and Ridgeway Avenue Northwest, the former site of Northland Community Bank.

The new building would replace the existing downtown store, which has been in operation since about 1955, owner Dale Thompson said.

Thompson said Ken K. Thompson purchased the former Northland bank site about five or six years ago.

Plans for the new building, which would offer 20 percent more sales floor than the current downtown store, have been in development off and on for about five years, Thompson said.

"It's always been in our thoughts, that it would be a very real possibility to move Ken K. Thompson out to that (new) location," he said. "Things are, economically, getting a little better. It makes a better arrangement for it."

Benefits of the new location would be added exposure along a busy Paul Bunyan Drive and ample parking, he said.

"Those are important factors," Thompson said. "We have to renew and reassert our brand in our area. As with any business, we have to renew ourselves every 'x' years."

But the building project faces a potential obstacle as plans do not meet setback requirements of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board.

Because the new building would be on a corner, current code requires two 30-foot front yard setbacks.

Dale and Dean Thompson, grandsons of the namesake jeweler, have applied for a variance allowing for a 10-foot setback from Ridgeway Avenue.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Bemidji City Hall as the Joint Planning Commission considers its recommendation.

The commission makes recommendations to the Joint Planning Board, which has final say. Typically, the planning board would hold a meeting in mid-June to consider the commission's recommendations. However, a special meeting has been called for 5 p.m. Friday at City Hall to consider the Ken K. Thompson plan.

Dale Thompson said Monday that he was feeling optimistic about obtaining the variance.

Joint planning staff, according to the agenda, has not recommended approval of the variance, instead urging "careful review" of the ordinance and variance request.

Many others have indicated their support, including Craig Gray, Bemidji's city engineer and public works director.

The new project would improve the existing corner, Gray noted in an email to the joint planning office, by decreasing the impervious surface on site from .33 acres to .24 acres. It also would close two accesses to Ridgeway Avenue, including one at the intersection that has been cited as a traffic and safety concern.

"The impervious surface percentage is going down, two road access points are being closed, so as far as my department goes, this is a win-win," Gray wrote.

Other letters of support came from area businesses such as Security Bank, Citizens State Bank - Midwest, Century 21 Dickinson, Lueken's Village Foods, AmericInn and the Bemidji Chrysler Center/Honda of Bemidji.

"I believe the curbside appeal alone of their building will be a significant upgrade to our intersection not to mention the increase in green space and elimination of two entries to Ridgeway Drive," wrote Joe Lueken in support. "Not only have I no objection to the project, I firmly endorse and look forward to having them as neighbors."

Also writing in support was Jean Patnode, the representative for the estate of Doris McClellan, which contains 4.5 acres of residential property in the immediate area.

An attorney representing Ken K. Thompson, James W. Haskell of Bemidji, wrote a letter to the joint planning office stating the variance process delays the project, which could push it into 2013.

"As you know, this is a longstanding highly respected family business and I would hope that a helpful attitude with appreciation of applicable law and the very significant financial issues involved would allow the city to dispense with the need for a variance and give the okay for this project to continue without delay," he wrote.