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Events center press conference set for today

After more than two weeks of speculation, answers on the proposed events center are expected this afternoon.

The city of Bemidji has announced a press conference for today at 3 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. It is open to the public.

City Manager John Chattin confirmed Tuesday that the press conference will address the events center. Details of what will be covered were not offered.

The city has held two closed-door meetings this month to discuss the potential acquisition of property on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. Whether the city intends to purchase one parcel of the land or the entire property is unknown.

The business community last week held a meeting to address the possibility of a south shore-located events center. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce ultimately decided to wait for more specific numbers and information.

Bill Batchelder, president of the Bemidji Woolen Mills, emphasized on Tuesday that no one from the City Council or the city's staff has ever said the events center's proposed location is being moved.

"There has been no indication that it is being moved from downtown," Batchelder said.

The Bemidji Woolen Mills is even hosting a "Downtown Regional Events Center Dedication" to celebrate the downtown location and honor the work that has been done on the project to date.

The "dedication" will begin at 4 p.m. today at the Freedom Defenders War Memorial, located at the south end of Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bemidji.

It is not planned to be a rally for a downtown location, but a celebration, Batchelder said.

"It absolutely is not a showdown," he said.

Members of the City Council, Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, and Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, have been invited to attend to receive recognition and honor "for their dedication, leadership and vision on staying focused on this critical project," according to the invitation.

"We love the City Council," Batchelder said. "I feel so right about this, otherwise I would never ever have put my name on this or the Bemidji Woolen Mills name on this."

No representatives of the city are expected to attend, Chattin said Tuesday. Lease negotiations between the city and Bemidji State University are planned for late afternoon and the meeting is preventing some councilors from attending.

Several speakers have been invited that represent a cross-section of the community.

"But the microphone will not be denied to anybody," Batchelder said, explaining that one of the messages of the event will be that everyone has a voice in downtown Bemidji.

Batchelder said the city's interest in the south shore is admirable, and he supports the city's interest in pursing some acquisition of land.

It would be beneficial for the city to acquire land to extend the Paul Bunyan Trail and an extended snowmobile trail, he said, adding that it would be even better if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and perhaps the North Country Snowmobile Club contributed to the costs.

The city also would benefit from acquiring the swampland for storm water runoff, Batchelder said. Additionally, it would be good to acquire one or two lots to extend Nymore beach and improve its boat landing area and parking lot, he said.

But he would be against buying the south shore to locate the events center on the property.

"That would be an absolute worst-case scenario and a deal-breaker with me personally for all I've stood up for in the downtown," Batchelder said.

The community has before fought to keep important buildings located in the heart of the city, he said, naming as examples the Beltrami County complex and the Bemidji Public Library.

"I truly believe it's a responsibility of our government leaders to put forth the extra effort to take care of blighted areas in their communities," Batchelder said.