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Pinnacle Village would create more shopping opportunities

Is Bemidji a retail mecca?

Bemidji now has two shopping districts - the downtown features local shops and services, and the "strip" along Highway 197/Paul Bunyan Drive on the north side of town has mostly national chains, including those at the Paul Bunyan Mall.

The city of Bemidji plans to create a third business area with the development of 130 acres along the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

And now, plans for the Pinnacle Village outlet mall at the intersections of U.S. highways 2 and 71 seem more likely to materialize, following a Tuesday announcement from a real estate company that is promoting a spring or summer 2009 opening date.

The outlet mall would result in a fourth business area for the city, which has Mike Smith, the president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, wondering about how the city planned for its retail growth.

Businesses will be spread out throughout the city limits, not unlike another northern Minnesota retail area, Smith said.

"Brainerd-Baxter is an example of how not to do it," he said.

City Councilor Nancy Erickson said the plans for Pinnacle Village should not have been shocking to anyone as developer Harry Takhar has been promoting the project for some time.

"It isn't a surprise to the community that this was coming," she said.

City Councilor Jerry Downs represents the fourth ward of Bemidji, which is where Pinnacle Village is proposed to be constructed. Development has stretched out to all corners of Bemidji, he said, adding that big-box retailers would neither have fit downtown nor have wanted to locate there.

"I think it all helps Bemidji become the regional center it is," Downs said.

City Planner Curt Oakes said he will meet with Takhar in early January to discuss the outlet mall plans. Takhar has recently withdrawn the preliminary plat and developer's agreement on the Pinnacle Village proposal, so Oakes expects to hear details about a new plan, he said.

Capital Growth Madison Marquette, a Minneapolis-based national commercial real estate company, announced on Tuesday that it had entered into a joint venture with Takhar to develop the 60-acre site for the Pinnacle Village outlet mall.

Downs said the partnership between Takhar and CGMM is a positive step for the project.

"Having a Minneapolis financer adds great credibility," he said.

At times, the council has been frustrated because residents have requested more information about Pinnacle Village and councilors couldn't offer anything, he explained.

"The general public is waiting to see something happen," Downs said.

The development is expected to occur in phases, the release said. Phase one will contain 460,000 square feet of retail space, including a 115,000-square-foot outlet center and a 170,000-square-foot big-box retailer. The second phase, expected by 2011, will include restaurants, a bank, hotel and more retail.

CGMM said groundbreaking on the first phase would be in spring 2008 and retail shops would open in spring or summer 2009.

Erickson said the plans further prove that Bemidji is a growing city.

"I think we can expect that it will encourage visitors from outside to area to come and shop here," she said.

Perhaps the main destination for some shoppers will be the outlet mall, but they would likely patronize local restaurants, bars and other shops as well, Erickson said.

"It will benefit the community as a whole," she said. "Bemidji has a lot to offer."

Another benefit from the outlet mall will be the creation of new jobs.

"Granted, they will be service-oriented jobs, but they will provide good employment for the city as well," she said.

Susan Goudge with Developers Diversified Realty Corporation, which owns and operates Paul Bunyan Mall, declined comment, saying that company policy prohibits her from speaking with the media.

Patrick Donnay, the president of the Downtown Development Authority, was not immediately available for comment.

CGMM did not return a phone call on Wednesday seeking further information.