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Business community to meet with City Council on downtown revitalization plans

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The business community was invited to attend Tuesday's City Council work session to discuss potential plans for the revitalization of downtown Bemidji.

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The City Council announced last week that it intends to move the proposed events center from the downtown railroad corridor to the south shore of Lake Bemidji. In doing so, the council removed the key effort toward downtown revitalization.

But, during a press conference in which Mayor Richard Lehmann announced the move, the city stated its commitment to the downtown and pledged to "craft a redevelopment strategy" for the south end.

The City Council has offered, through City Manager John Chattin, to meet with the business community during Tuesday's work session to discuss potential ideas, said Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce President Mike Smith.

The Chamber met Wednesday night to discuss ideas about what should be presented to the City Council during Tuesday's meeting.

"The City Council is holding out a branch here," Smith said.

The council has said it is committed to downtown revitalization, but Smith said that perhaps the business community could ask councilors to better define what that means.

"I personally thing we've got to go fishing next week and see where they're at," Smith said.

Smith said he has worked with the city on three large projects, including the former Bemidji High School site, a proposed parking ramp for downtown and the events center project. There were no resulting plans from the first two projects, he said, suggesting that one of the fatal flaws was not getting specific input from the City Council earlier in the projects.

Smith said the group should try to soon determine whether the city was willing to include the land it owns in the railroad corridor in redevelopment plans or if tax-increment financing is an option to help spur redevelopment.

"If they're going to say no, let's find out now," he said.

When someone inquired about the prospect of including the former Marketplace Foods site in revitalization plans, Smith said that nothing is now being ruled out.

"We're using the city property as a spark or a catalyst to get this thing going," Smith said.

Other ideas included a community center, outdoor performance space, a pedestrian walkway above Paul Bunyan Drive from downtown to the waterfront, a transportation plan to the south shore, and a refocus on parking issues downtown.

Smith stressed the need for a market study - and said it should be requested during next week's meeting. The city previously agreed to fund the study at a cost of $25,000, but Park Rapids recently completed a similar study that cost $50,000, Smith said.

"We need that study to drive anything we decide to put in downtown," he said.

No decisions were made during Wednesday's meeting. A smaller group was identified that will again meet before Tuesday's meeting to hammer out specifics.

"Downtown is important to everyone," Smith said.

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Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337
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