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BSU Foundation cuts loose 10 acres : Land originally bought in 2007 for campus development that never happened

The Bemidji State University Foundation is selling land where the former Bemidji High School used to stand at the corner of 15th Street and Bemidji Avenue. Originally, the land was to be turned over to the college for development, but that project stalled when state bonding never came through. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI — Not every story of land development in Bemidji has a happy ending.

In 2007, the BSU Foundation bought about 10 acres of land where the old Bemidji High School stood, hoping to someday turn it over to the college to develop. Six years later, it’s trying to sell those 10 mostly barren acres at the corner of 15th Street and Bemidji Avenue while earning back the money it sunk into the project.

The Bemidji School District sold the land to the foundation after two years of negotiation. Then-BSU President Jon Quistgaard hailed the new parcels of land as "the future of the university."

The foundation paid for the high school to be demolished and the site cleaned. Requests for bonding money to buy the property for development were sent to the state Capitol but the money never came.

In 2010, BSU found out its own state funding would be pared down. They told the foundation to start looking for other options besides selling it to the college to get a return on the hundreds of thousands of dollars they had put into the land.

"The financial environment did not work in our favor," Bill Maki, Bemidji State vice president for finance and administration said at the time. "Big changes have occurred in past five years, bonding money became more difficult to attain and the university is determining what size of footprint it really should have."

Three years passed.

Rob Bollinger, head of University Advancement for the foundation, said Wednesday the three parcels were on the market. They sit between the Bemidji Boys & Girls Club and the southbound lane of Bemidji Avenue.

In 2010, Bollinger still was hopeful the foundation could restart negotiations to turn over the land to BSU when now-president Richard Hanson replaced the retiring Quistgaard. Now if it is sold, he said, it would likely be to a private sector company.

Jeff Kemink, president of the foundation’s board of directors, said Thursday there are multiple entities interested in the property, but no definite offers.

"We do not have a confirmed, documented, written agreement," he said. "However, we are… at various levels of negotiation with some individuals now."

He added that "negotiation" could mean "initial dialogue, to discussions of what we have for valuations and appraisals, to what we feel is conducive to the vision and values of Bemidji State, to a variety of things."

Kemink said the foundation was closely scrutinizing the development ideas from interested parties to make sure those proposals were in line with the values of BSU.

"We certainly wouldn’t want a bar next to the university, and to a Boys and Girls Club, and in a neighborhood like that," he said. "We’re very sensitive to the adjoining neighbors, we’re very sensitive to the adjoining neighboring businesses."

Kemink declined to give the price the foundation was asking for the property but he said it reflected fair market value based on appraisals. Appraisals began about three months ago, he said.

The value of the lots has increased more than $350,000 since the foundation bought them in 2007, according to Beltrami County records. They were originally bought for about $575,000 but the total value of the three plots as of Wednesday was roughly $930,000.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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