Weather Forecast


Bemidji City Council advances events center design

While the Bemidji City Council agreed that schematics depicted a beautiful building, it was split when deciding whether to give architects the OK to continue with their events center plans.

On a 5-2 vote, councilors directed the design team Thursday night to continue refining preliminary plans and determine the costs of events center design options. Councilors Barb Meuers and Roger Hellquist were opposed.

Meuers, while applauding the "gorgeous building" depicted in the plans, said she was getting nervous about the overall cost of the complex - and stated that she was awaiting a breakdown of those costs.

"I have to vote my conscience," she said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the vote would not authorize the digging of the hole for the facility and added that the council will still review the projected costs once they are available.

"All we're doing right now is directing staff to continue refining these plans for our consideration in the future," Lehmann said. "This is simply the next step in the overall process."

Following the meeting, Hellquist said his vote should not be taken as opposition of the project, but rather its process. The council sat down the design team about three months ago, looked at similar schematics and then directed architects to design a $50 million building because the city cannot afford a $100 million complex, he said, noting that the council has been ignored throughout the process.

He still has not seen a $50 million facility, Hellquist noted.

Rather, the council has been asked to make incremental decisions throughout the process that leads it further from its original intent, Hellquist said. It's similar to the Diamond Point project - where the council limited reconstruction to a cost of $1.6 million and it ended up costing $3.8 million, he explained.

The design team presented revised sketches Thursday based on suggestions it received from councilors and members of the events center design committee during sessions held Tuesday and Wednesday.

The exterior is proposed to be constructed of brick, stone, metal paneling and glass. Different colors would be utilized to break up the building's size.

Access would be gained on the west side of the complex where two entrances would be available: one to the events center and one to the convention center. Both entrances would be highlighted through the use of windows and canopies.

Participants in previous meetings this week nixed the idea of a northwoods-themed exterior in terms of building features, but the design team did not abandon the idea of a Bemidji-esque appearance.

"That would really be inspired from the landscaping surrounding the events center," said Tom Whitlock, a landscape architect with Damon Farber Associates.

He proposed layering native plants such as evergreens, birch and poplar trees and red twig dogwoods outside of the complex. By placing translucent paper with sketches of such vegetation atop proposed building plans, Whitlock demonstrated for the group how landscaping would affect the site.

"Putting those trees in front of the building honestly is what brings (the building) to the northwoods," said Councilor Nancy Erickson. "That changes the entire look. That made a tremendous difference."