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Pioneer Editorial: Bemidji has good day at State Capitol

After the dust clears today in St. Paul, it appears that Bemidji's needs have been heard by legislators and will be answered.

Of course, politics are always in play and that's why it always seems to take to the last minute to resolve everything -- or in overtime sometimes as was the case last year -- but we'd like to believe that our community made the case and won on the merits of our requests.

At any rate, with final votes expected sometime before 7 a.m. today, Bemidji should receive $3 million in planning and design funds for a regional events center and $1.5 million for the Paul Bunyan Trail.

The regional events center is planned for the south end of the downtown, and will be anchored with a hockey arena for Bemidji State University's NCAA Division I hockey program. But the center will be more than that, and holds the promise of helping Bemidji grow as a real regional center.

Planning and design means just that -- now the community must give input into what kind of center we want and what it will do for us. Also, we need to know what we can pay for, and what it will cost -- remembering that just having a multi-use center will add untold millions in economic activity to the city.

The trail funding is also important, as it will allow the further development of the southeast shore of Lake Bemidji and help connect what will become a major state trail from Brainerd to International Falls, through Bemidji. That too when completed can serve as a major economic driver for the community with an environmentally friendly activity which highlights our natural resources attractions.

While not as controversial or political, Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College will also receive the funding they sought for academic improvements, continuing an important state investment in higher education in Bemidji.

As Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann noted on Saturday, "Bemidji Day at the Capitol" held in late March had to have an effect on the legislative process. By bringing dozens of community members to St. Paul with a unified, non-partisan agenda of how the state can help grow one of its rising regional centers, thus contributing to the overall health of the state's economy, had to weigh in our favor.

Bemidji did well, but we are concerned that other area projects of significance did not receive funding, notably the Big Bog Recreation Area Interpretive Center. With the re-opening of walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake, the center would help the tourism economy of that region. Also, the Legislature failed to provide funding for Red Lake schools improvements, even though funding was supported by the governor. As part of our area's economic health, perhaps both those projects should be put on the next Bemidji lobbying agenda.