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It takes a Village: South shore developers hope to capture original vision of property

The Village at South Shore features 140 acres of developable land with more than 5,000 feet of public lakeshore along the south shore of Lake Bemidji. Submitted Photo Courtesy HRDC

Welcome to the Village at South Shore.

The 140-acre redevelopment area along the south shore of Lake Bemidji has a new name, logo, website and marketing and promotion efforts aimed at achieving one goal: sell the land.

"The whole idea of a village really sets the right tone," said Dave Hengel, director of leadership and development with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission.

The city of Bemidji chose to purchase the land in the south shore to not only construct its multiuse events and convention center - The Sanford Center - but also to create a multi-use commercial and residential development that also would feature public open space and trail opportunities.

The development was envisioned to be walkable and energetic, a place for community.

"We wanted (a name) that captured the original vision," Hengel said.

The HRDC is under a development agreement with the city for the south shore. Its team consists of Hengel; development specialists Aaron Chirpich, who works with housing; and Mareike Stoutenburgh, marketing; and Tiffany Fettig, business loan consultant. Russ McGinty is the broker for the Village through North Central Commercial Real Estate LLC.

The Bemidji City Council voted in October to contract with McGinty and the HRDC. Decisions endorsed by the project team are run by John Chattin, the Bemidji city manager.

While McGinty has been contacting and meeting with larger, metropolitan-based developers, the HRDC has been serving as the local contact for developers, offering local context and information about local resources available.

"We're here to work with them and advocate for them," Hengel said.

Potential developers are provided with the site plans and a packet details all the demographical information for a 75-mile radius. There also is a new website at southshorebemidji.com that touts the Village and offers a site through which developers can closely examine each site, comparing their size, cost and location.

Every real estate developer in the immediate region has the information about the Village and more than 50 developers in the Twin Cities have received it as well.

"(McGinty) is getting quite a bit of interest from pretty strong developers (in the Twin Cities)," Hengel said.

Marketing efforts are being expanded locally as well. The city now has an agreement with The Sanford Center through which it can utilize marketing opportunities on the marquee sign along Paul Bunyan Drive and also target the lounge servicing the club seating section of the arena. A kiosk with a touch pad is planned to be circulated between the convention center and event center.

Hengel said one of the goals of the project team also is to be as transparent as possible. So they will be going out and making presentations to groups in the community.

The HRDC makes its team available to assist developers throughout the development process, which seems somewhat lengthy, but can be accomplished in as little as three months.

The process involves meetings with the South Shore Proposal Review Committee, the City Council and the Design Review Committee. Then, the project would go through the application process through the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission and Board.

A Planned Unit Development for the whole redevelopment area, however, has already been adopted by the JPB, so the JPC/JPB process should be fairly simple, unless a developer is asking for something outside of the PUD standards.

Once the JPB process is complete, an application is made for a building permit and a final site plan review is done.

"When you think about why each step exists, it makes sense," Hengel said.

The city already has broadened its available financial help for projects proposed for the Village at South Shore and the railroad corridor.

Traditionally, loans are available for $20,000-$150,000 and have interest rates set by market conditions and the desirability of the application. Applicants must pay closing costs, a 1 percent loan origination fee and create at least one living-wage job.

But for projects proposed in the south shore (which includes the former Minnesota Department of Transportation building site) and the railroad corridor, those terms have been tweaked. Loans are available for up to $300,000 with the possibility of a 0 percent interest rate. Payments could be deferred for up to 24 months and no job creation requirement is included.

"The south shore is so important, so crucial, to the development of the city that we treat it differently," Hengel said. "That was a courageous decision by the council."

There are other potential funding sources through the HRDC, the Joint Economic Development Commission and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, he noted.

The HRDC is working to align all the potential resources so developers know what is available.

Hengel said he also needs to open a dialogue with the City Council about what incentives it is willing to offer to developers. Is tax-increment financing an option? What about waiving some of its fees?

Hengel said he wants to avoid a situation in which the council is specifically asked about a potential incentive, such as TIF, by one developer. Rather, the HRDC would rather be able to tell developers up front about the options that are available and those that are not.

"What are you willing to do for the right project?" he said.

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