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Developer comes forward for former BHS site

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

BEMIDJI — A local developer has emerged with big plans for the site of the former Bemidji High School.

The proposed project calls for several apartment buildings that would include business space on the first floor as well as townhomes and parking.

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At Monday’s City Council work session, Trudy Peterson of Peterson Developers LLC presented the idea to build seven buildings that would combine housing geared toward BSU students as well as commercial space.

The “University Heights” project also calls for 12 townhomes to be built on Minnesota Avenue. The total number of occupants, counting both the townhomes and apartments, is estimated at 542 people, according to the schematic plans presented at the meeting.

The project also includes a four-level, 296-car parking ramp near the existing football field/running track, according to the schematics, which were designed by MJ Architectural Studios of Bemidji. The plans also call for the extension of 16th Street by several hundred feet from Minnesota Avenue to Bemidji Avenue, and to extend Beltrami Avenue from where it ends on 15th Street to the new section of 16th Street.

The intention of Monday’s presentation was to gauge City Council support for the project and thus determine whether it would be practical for Peterson Developers to apply for tax incentives from the city. Just the application itself costs $7,500, to cover the cost the city incurs when it hires consultants to review the application.

Council members appeared to generally like the idea of the project going forward, although some expressed concerns with details. Council member Reed Olson was wary of the possibility the project may eventually drive up rent in nearby neighborhoods through gentrification. Council member Nancy Erickson said she did not want the city to make the tax incentives too expansive.   

The council has historically been reluctant to use Tax Increment Financing, one of the types of tax incentives that Peterson Developers may seek.

Dave Hengel, director of Greater Bemidji, touted the benefits the project would bring to the nearby BSU campus.

“For BSU to compete, the ability to have these kinds of housing options so close to campus is really important to them,” he said.

Hengel also said the new apartments would allow the houses now being rented to become available for potential homeowners.

The BSU Foundation originally bought the 10-acre plot in 2007 hoping to turn it over to the college to develop as the university expanded. When the college’s budget was pared down, those development plans were scotched, and instead the foundation aimed to sell it to private developers. In October, BSU Foundation head Jeff Kemink said the foundation was in “negotiation” with several interested parties but did not name them publicly. He did say that the foundation was closely scrutinizing any potential projects to make sure they were in line with BSU values.

“We certainly wouldn’t want a bar next to the university, and to a Boys & 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.”

Trudy’s husband and co-owner of Peterson Development, John Peterson, stressed in an interview with the Pioneer that plans are still in the preliminary phase, including which businesses could occupy the commercial spaces.

John Peterson said they are hoping to start construction in May 2015.

Also, Trudy said it has not yet been established whether BSU would manage and maintain the student apartments in the new buildings. She said that Peterson Development has a purchase agreement submitted for the land, but has not closed yet with the BSU Foundation. In an October article in the Pioneer, the entire 10-acre lot was valued at $950,000 by the county.

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