BEMIDJI – An enhanced Mississippi Riverfront area, a narrower Bemidji Avenue near downtown and new development near Bemidji State University.
Those were among the ideas presented to the community by the Minnesota Design Team Saturday night at the Chief Theatre. The event marked the end of the volunteer group’s visit to Bemidji over the weekend.
On Friday, team members met with community leaders and toured the area, and got feedback from residents during a brainstorming session about what they love about Bemidji and what they want to see in the future.
The group, which is made up of city planners, administrators and architects from across the state, took that feedback and came up with about 20 different designs and strategies. The process helped kick off the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board’s comprehensive planning process over the next few months.
Residents who came to events over the weekend signed up to be a part of that process. Mayana Rice, the planning administrator for the GBAJPB, said now that the MDT’s visit is over, the hard work begins.
“The best part of events like this is that it brings ideas back to the surface,” she said at the old Harmony location, where MDT members talked with residents about their presentations.
Among the designs presented Saturday was to utilize the old Pamida site as the new home for the Headwaters Science Center, and to encourage more public access to the Mississippi River.
Team member Harold Skjelbostad said that after hearing many people talk about how important the water is to the community, having easier access to the river was a point of interest.
“It dawned on us, we can’t even touch the river,” he said. The design also included a boardwalk from Lake Bemidji along the river. It also showed some redevelopment near the BeltramiHistorical Center, where the city owns some property.
The presentation also suggested eliminating the center turn lane on Bemidji Avenue from Third to Fifth streets, which would reduce traffic speed and improve pedestrian safety. That plan would also allow the Carnegie Library to remain in its current place while adding green space in front.
Other suggestions included mixed use and residential development on the old high school site across from Bemidji State University and improving existing housing stock.
While it’s unclear how many of the proposals would become reality, residents throughout the weekend were appreciative of the work the team put in to the plan.
“I am truly amazed at what they can do in three days,” said Becky Lueben.
She added: “One thing the team highlighted was everything that we have. We have so many elements of a successful community.”
Team member Chris Harnett used part of the presentation to showcase ways in which some of those elements can work together and build on each other. For example, the business community works with the education sector to mentor students, and the education community helps educate staff in the medical community.
Paul Mandell, the group’s incoming chair, closed the presentation by encouraging residents to become involved in the process in the upcoming months.
“Talk to your friends and your neighbors about what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard and discuss it,” he said. “There might be better ideas that come out of this, or totally contrary to some of the things we presented.”