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Events center Design Review Committee identifies elements that represent Bemidji

What makes a building Bemidji-esque?

Members of the events center's Design Review Committee on Tuesday identified design elements that represent Bemidji during a meeting with Leo A. Daly representatives.

It was the first meeting of the Design Review Committee, which was formed to work with the design team to develop an events center building that better represents the Bemidji community.

A previous proposal from Leo A. Daly depicted a modern building that would be constructed of metal paneling, brick and glass. Commonly referred to as "the iceberg" throughout the community, Mayor Richard Lehmann said the design was not well received.

"People didn't really feel that it fit with Bemidji that well," Lehmann said.

So, Manos Ginis, the director of design with Leo A. Daly, asked the committee on Tuesday to describe for him the ideal Bemidji building.

"And we will go back and try to interpret this," he said.

City Engineer Craig Gray, who came to Bemidji from the Twin Cities area, said he initially loved the first design presented by Leo A. Daly.

But, when he took it home to show his wife, she echoed the sentiments that the community was feeling, he said. She told him that the building was exactly what they left behind in the Twin Cities.

"We have to tie it to us somehow," Gray said.

Five members of the Design Review Committee attended the meeting, as did City Manager John Chattin.

Committee members voiced support of a design that might utilize stones, logs, rough concrete, an organic design and a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Ginis provided a packet containing several dozens of photographs of existing sports arenas, asking the committee if any of them contained design elements that represented Bemidji.

Also included in the packet were photos of some North Woods-type designs at retail shops such as Gander Mountain, REI and Cabela's.

The REI images seemed to resonate with committee member Dennis Parker, a forest service park planner. REI often uses glass exteriors that allow customers and passers-by to view into the building and see climbing walls and rustic features.

Parker said the idea of using the inside to depict a North Woods feel was an idea he had not previously considered.

"Maybe it doesn't necessarily have to be on the outside," he said.

While considering what makes a building Bemidji-esque, Chattin said it was important to remember why people come to the area.

They are willing to leave their modern homes in the suburbs to come up to the lake and stay in a rustic cabin -- and even use an outhouse, if necessary -- just to be part of nature or near a lake, he explained.

"That's the draw," he said, stressing that the events center building needs to reflect that.

Lehmann referred to the new Bemidji High School, which utilized a combination of colored brick, including yellow and green, to connect with the area around it.

"That building, to me, fits more of what Bemidji is," he said.

The proposed events center, which would include an events center/hockey arena and convention center, is proposed to be built on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. Leo A. Daly is now working on a revised site plan since the city has removed plans for a second sheet of ice.

"The size of this facility is considerably larger than anything Bemidji currently has," Ginis said.

The Bemidji events center would cover more space than the grain elevator, train depot and Tamarack Hall combined, Ginis explained. (The grain elevator and 18-story Tamarack Hall will still be taller than the events center.)

Parker said the size of the building will be difficult to overcome and challenged the design team to use elements to break up its size.

The problem is exactly as Ginis stated, Parker said: A building the size of the events center just does not fit in Bemidji.

Committee member Dave Larson of EAPC Architects said the new bridge on Paul Bunyan Drive near Pamida is a good example of construction that represented the Bemidji North Woods.

"I suggest you break up the geometry and turn it into something more organic," he said, suggesting a sloped roof.

Parker suggested that a good design could even win over opponents and critics of the events center. Some don't want the building because it represents change, he explained.

The group owes those who are against the center a building that reflects the community, he said.

"We want to keep Bemidji Bemidji," Parker said.

Ginis said the design team will consider the comments and work on some new sketches for the committee's consideration. Because the site plan must be tweaked a bit, he said the new building proposals will be available for the committee's review in about three weeks.

Public comment?

Parker wondered if it would be possible to hold a public open house on the potential design of the building to help build some community support for the project.

The pictures of arenas provided by Ginis could be displayed and committee members would just take notes on what the community liked and did not like, he explained.

"At least there would be some ownership from the community," he said.

Lehmann, however, said the plan could easily work against the committee.

Those working on the Diamond Point reconstruction plan held a similar open house, but people's feelings were hurt when their ideas were not incorporated into final plans.

"There are hundreds of ideas," he said. "You just can't include them all."