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Bemidji City Council: Bemidji City Park price cut

The price tag was just a little too high.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday directed the city's Parks and Trails Commission to reduce the overall cost of renovations for Bemidji City Park by about $300,000.

City Park, located adjacent to and behind Neilson-Reise Arena, has a total of 80 acres and is the next park that will undergo reconstruction through the use of sales-tax dollars.

Plans include a four-field softball complex, a skate park, 18-hole disc golf course, a new outdoor hockey rink, trail improvements and expanded cross-country ski trails. Sand volleyball courts and added play and picnic areas also have been proposed.

The cost had been estimated at $4.1 million.

But the City Council, citing some concerns with a dwindling cash fund for parks improvements, directed the Parks and Trails Commission to reduce the cost to $3.8 million.

"Everybody wants the Taj Mahal ... but you go with what you can afford," said Councilor Roger Hellquist.

The sales-tax fund that will improve Bemidji's parks will generate $9.8 million, of which about $5 million remains to be spent.

Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson acknowledged that $4.1 million for City Park may be a lot of money, but noted that the city's parks are in poor condition.

"Our parks are in disarray," she said.

City Park originally was slated to receive about $2.3 million for improvements based on the 2001 Park Plan, but that figure was adjusted for inflation, Larson said.

Councilor Jerry Downs pointed out that City Park is different than the city's other cornerstone park in that it is a place for the city's families.

With athletic fields, walking trails, a skate park and areas for play, Downs said it contributes to the council's goal of cultivating active lifestyles.

"It is in line with what we, as a group, encourage in this community," he said. "It's getting kids off the couch and getting them moving."

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen noted that Bemidji was recently designated as a Fit City, and the improvements to City Park will help support that.

It took a handful of motions before the six-member council found common ground; Mayor Richard Lehmann was absent.

First, a motion by Councilor Greg Negard to direct the Parks and Trails Commission to cut the overall cost to $3.5 million failed.

Then, a motion by Councilor Barb Meuers failed due to a lack of a second; Meuers had wanted to approve the plan as presented, but also ask Parks and Trails to make unspecified budget reductions.

"I like the plan," Meuers said. "Yeah, it's a lot of money, but taking this key park into the future is a really good thing."

Councilor Ron Johnson then made a motion to direct Parks and Trails to make suggestions of budget cuts, but he withdrew the motion.

Hellquist then made his motion in support of a $3.8 million project. The vote passed unanimously.