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Public reacts to south shore plans

Cautiously optimistic.

That seemed to be the most common reaction among residents who viewed the proposed site plans for the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

The design team unveiled the site plans during a City Council work session on Tuesday, and a public open house was held Wednesday to showcase the plans to residents.

"I think it's very impressive," said Janice Dagen of Bemidji, who said she has been in favor of the events center - but not always the location, and likes the south shore site much more.

The council's decision to move the events center to the south shore was a good idea to Chris Siegert of Bemidji as well.

"I like this idea much more than downtown," he said.

But not everyone was completely sold on the events center proposal.

Sharon Peske of Bemidji said she generally liked what she saw, but told officials that she would like to see family-friendly development in the area.

Peske also said she was concerned with the amount of taxes and increased fees that will be placed on her budget in the near future.

"I'll watch and see what happens," she said.

Orielle Norland of Bemidji said the plans for the events center were really nice - but wondered how the city plans to finance its construction and operation.

"It's reasonable to want to see these things go, but you've got to pay for them, too," he said.

Others opposed to the project were not comfortable revealing their identities. One man said he believed the proposed complex was "excessive" for Bemidji. Another said it seemed unnecessary to build a three-story hockey arena with plush suites to serve a collegiate hockey team.

But, most people were generally supportive of the proposal.

"I think it will be a good thing for Bemidji," said Roxi Mann of Bemidji, who liked the site plans and the idea of an events center.

Officials react

No formal presentation was given during the open house. However, representatives from the design team, Headwaters Regional Development Commission, city staff and some City Council members were in attendance to answer questions.

Following the two-hour open house, Councilor Ron Johnson said he had one person who expressed negative opinions about the proposal - and, after Johnson spent one hour explaining the proposal, the man left in favor of the project, Johnson said.

Overall, Johnson said, the one comment he heard from residents was that if the City Council is going to construct the events center, do it correctly from the beginning.

"When they say, 'Build it right,' they're really right," Johnson said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said the comments made on Wednesday were generally positive - but, she expected that considering that the bulk of the attendees were known supporters of the plan, she said.

It would be helpful to have such open houses or public meetings during the evening, when the working residents are able to attend, Erickson said.

"I do wish the public would come and get more information and give their opinions publicly," she said, adding that those opposed to the project are not always as vocal as the supporters.

What's next?

City Manager John Chattin said the project team will meet Friday to develop a strategy for how to move forward.

Cliff Tweedale, the executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said the week of Dec. 17 will prove to be crucial.

By then, the project team will need to have addressed three key components of the plan, he said:

-- Development of a framework for a lease with Bemidji State University. (The BSU negotiations committee is scheduled to meet for the fourth time on Dec. 13.)

-- A strategy for matching revenue and costs

-- A plan to address any operational deficits with the facility.