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Mayor reviews state of city

Mayor Richard Lehmann presented the second annual State of the City address Wednesday afternoon at City Hall as he highlighted the city's accomplishments in 2007 and outlined expectations for 2008.

"The city of Bemidji has secured its place as a regional center," said Lehmann as he opened his address.

The city has made its mark on both the state and the nation, drawing such "dignitaries" as U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, he said.

"It is extremely rare to have visits from all our representatives in just one year, but Bemidji is being recognized as one of the most progressive, leading-edge communities in both our state and the nation," Lehmann said.

The state recognized the city as Bemidji was name of five "Capitals for a Day" and will host state officials for one day in May as Minnesota celebrates 150 years of statehood this year.

"We have much to offer and this opportunity to showcase our city presents a wonderful opportunity," Lehmann said.

The proposed events center of course was mentioned as key goal for 2008 as Lehmann thanked local legislators Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, and Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, for the commitment to the project.

"Without them to lead the charge, we would have little hope of success in St. Paul," he said.

Especially, given the recent news that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has left the events center out of his capital project bonding proposal, which was released on Monday.

"Obviously there's disappointment on my part that we were not included," he said following the official state of the city address.

Still, Lehmann said, he has hope that local lawmakers will be able to work with their colleagues and governor to secure state funding for the proposal. Pawlenty has publicly voiced his support of the events center in the past, he noted.

Bemidji is continuing to advance its theme of a "city as a park," he said, noting the recent reconstruction of Diamond Point Park and the remaining $6 million that will be raised through the half-cent sales tax.

Additionally, more than 40 percent of the 130 acres purchased along the south shore of Lake Bemidji will be used for parks, trails and green space, Lehmann noted.

"We remain committed to the North Woods character that has drawn so many to our city," he said.

Development as a whole increased in the city in 2007, Lehmann said, explaining that 600 building permits last year were issued representing $41 million in construction - the highest value of permits since 1999.

"The majority of permits were for commercial and governmental construction, but the city also added 92 single- and multi-family residential units," he said. "Both indications of our growth as a regional center as well as how we are bucking both state and national trends with our growth."

The Bemidji Regional Airport - the fourth busiest airport in the state - in 2007 continued to grow as it completed a $9.8 million project that included the extension and reconstruction of the new runway. Lehmann said. The project, which allows for the ability to accommodate larger aircraft, was 95 percent funded through state and federal dollars.

The airport has also received a $335,000 federal grant to extend utility services for new businesses, Lehmann said.

A new governmental entity was introduced in 2007 as the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board took over the city's planning and zoning needs as well as those affecting Northern and Bemidji townships.

"This new entity has generated a great deal of interest in other communities and has been held up as a model of governmental cooperation," Lehmann said. "It continues to develop as it plows new ground, never before seen in the state."

A major highlight for city government in 2008 will be the opening of the new Public Works Facility, located north of Fifth Street, which will house the engineering, water, sewer and parks departments.

At a cost of more than $8 million, the new building was designed to be "green" and features in-floor heat and motion sensors that will turn the lights off when not in use, he said.

"Maximizing energy-efficient technologies will serve us well for many years to come," Lehmann said.

The industrial park will soon undergo a $2.7 million expansion, thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Lehmann said. Partnering in the expansion is the Economic Development Administration and Bemidji Development Corporation.

"The number of businesses locating here continues to grow and we are doing our vest to accommodate that growth," Lehmann said. "However, our current industrial park is full. This expansion will make many additional lots available for new and expanding businesses and extend the city's infrastructure further to the south where additional development is anticipated."

'Ongoing' challenge

"Public safety has become an ongoing challenge for our community," Lehmann said.

In 2007, the Bemidji Police Department responded to 17,500 calls and the Bemidji Fire Department handled 2,770 calls, of which nearly 600 required emergency medical services.

"Our police and fire personnel respond to an extraordinary number of calls each year," Lehmann said. "Well beyond what one would expect for a city our size."

Fortunately, Bemidji boats "trained and dedicated" police and firefighters who answer those calls, he noted.

"Their commitment to protect and serve has been well demonstrated over the years and is appreciated by our residents," Lehmann said.