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Groundbreaking held for new First National Bank Bemidji building

Surrounded by family, board members and staff, the Welle family-owned First National Bank Bemidji began work Wednesday on its new home at 1600 Paul Bunyan Drive N.W.

The groundbreaking ceremony on the 3.79 acres marks the official start of construction that should be completed in about 18 months, said Ron Cuperus of Cuperus Construction, FNBB board member and construction manager. He said the planning for the new building has been under way for about two years.

"This makes it a little more exciting when we can actually do some dirt work," said Sue Engel, FNBB sales and marketing director.

President Tom Welle said the new building -- 35,000 square feet with parking space, green space, trees and garden court -- is the bank's commitment to the future of Bemidji.

"What we're doing for today is for the long term," he said, noting that Maddie Erickson, 13, winner of the Young Investor essay contest, would also put shovel to soil to represent coming generations of bank customers.

Erickson said in her essay that she had seen the plans, and they look very modern.

"I can't wait to see the garden area, and I had an idea that maybe a small spot could be planted by kids my age -- the Young Investors Garden club," she wrote.

She said she also hopes someday to work at FNBB. "I like that this bank cares about kids," she wrote.

Vice President Paul Welle briefly recited his family's connection with the bank, beginning with Rudolph Welle in 1918. Now the family member-managers are cousins Tom, Paul and Vice President Hugh Welle.

Joe Welle, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Jane, was president until 2000, Paul Welle said, also introducing other family members: Bob and Jeannette Welle and Virginia Welle.

"This building will not only be state of the art, it will be the finest building in Bemidji," Tom Welle said.

Cuperus said the bidding will be let in phases, with Christiansen Industrial Developers, Mike and Jason Christiansen, who won the first-phase bid, to "bring the skeleton of the building out of the ground."

Tom Welle reminded the staff in attendance that "The building is just the place where we can hang our hat in the morning. It's what we do afterwards that counts."

Because of FNBB's commitment to Bemidji as a community bank for nearly 110 years, he said coming generations will enjoy the new bank.

FNBB will continue to operate the downtown express office and the Lueken's Village Foods South branches. However, the main downtown bank and the north branches will close.