BEMIDJI – The Northwest Minnesota Foundation, in designing its new headquarters, made a concerted effort to represent the entire area it serves within the walls of its home.
NMF, which serves 12 counties in northwest Minnesota, moved Dec. 10, relocating its headquarters into the former Lumberman Bank on Third Street in downtown Bemidji.
“It’s hard when you only have one main place, yet you serve such a large area,” said Nancy Vyskocil, NMF’s president.
Because of that, images of and tributes to the greater region were deliberately featured throughout the building.
A tile mosaic designed by Darci Thabes of Bagley will greet visitors as they walk into the main entryway. The mosaic, composed of more than 2,300 pieces of tile, depicts a rolling river with tributaries leading out to “postcards,” or snapshots, of northern Minnesota life, including a Lake of the Woods-esque lake scene, wild-ricing in a river, a forest, and a wintertime snowshoeing scene.
“You walk in through the front doors and the river pulls you inside,” Vyskocil said.
Additionally, six conference rooms were named for regional state parks: Hayes Lake, Itasca, Lake Bemidji, Lake Bronson, Old Mill and Zippel Bay. Each conference room’s nameplate and inside wall art features photographs taken from within the state park by Park Rapids’ Doug Ohman, who photographed every Minnesota state park for his book, “Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota’s State Parks.”
“You can plan and plan and plan, but it isn’t until people come here and say, ‘Oh this is my (state) park,’” or see a tile postcard illustrating their home region that NMF knew if it was successful at its goal bringing the region into the building, she said.
The Lumberman Bank originally was constructed in 1905. More recently, it served as the main local base for Wells Fargo until the bank relocated to the northwest side of Bemidji near Marketplace Foods. NMF purchased the property in 2012 and the renovation began early that year.
The new site was designed to serve both the foundation and the public. Three of the six conference rooms – including two that can be separate or combined – and bathrooms and a kitchen are located on the main level adjacent to the NMF’s office spaces. The offices can be locked off after the traditional work day, making the public area accessible for conferences or meetings.
In all, the first floor has about 14,000 square feet available, more than twice the 5,000 square feet that the NMF had previously. Additional areas in the top level are open for tenants.
“It exceeds our expectations,” Vyskocil said of the new headquarters.
The exterior renovation, still in progress, is expected to be complete in about two to three months, she said.
“We feel welcome downtown. It’s been great,” Vyskocil said. “It’s fun to be in a neighborhood, where we have great neighbors.”