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Newest events center plans leave hole in downtown

"A double blow."

That's what Patrick Donnay, president of the Downtown Development Authority, called Wednesday's announcement that the events center would be proposed to be located on the south shore and not downtown.

The city not only canceled a redevelopment strategy for downtown, but it also is advocating for what will likely create a competing business district, Donnay said.

"I represent the downtown businesses, and for us, this is a double blow," he said.

Officials on Wednesday pledged that they would work with the downtown businesses to identify a revitalization plan for downtown. However, no plans were presented.

In his press release, Mayor Richard Lehmann said the Bemidji City Council was committed to its downtown businesses and would work with them to craft a redevelopment strategy for the south end.

Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and the Headwaters Redevelopment Development Commission also support downtown revitalization.

"We have to get that done," Moe said.

Olson did not attend Wednesday's press conference, but she sent a letter in which she pledged to support the city's businesses and would even consider legislative dollars to improve the downtown.

Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce President Mike Smith said enough information is not available to judge whether the city is making a good decision in moving the events center.

"We still don't have information," he said, adding that the Chamber is committed to its downtown businesses.