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Development in northwest quadrant was natural evolution

Businesses are shown along state Highway 197. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

National retail stores have been lured to the northwest quadrant of the city in the past by open spaces and high traffic volumes.

According to former Bemidji City Planner Curt Oakes, the development along the northwest side was a natural evolution.

"It was about the only option for (national chains) because that's where the open space was," Oakes told the Pioneer last spring. "There were not many vacant parcels left."

He also noted that big-box chains often are established on the outer edges of towns.

Development along the west end began in July 1977 when Kmart opened for business at its current location.

Paul Bunyan Mall followed, opening in 1978 with an initial 18 stores.

The local hospital, then the Bemidji Community Hospital, decided in 1976 to purchase 150 acres in the northwest area of town. The new hospital broke ground Aug. 29, 1977, and opened Oct. 30, 1979, with 25 medical staff members. It became North Country Regional Hospital following a name and corporation change in 1981.

Also helping to spur development along the west end was the completion of the U.S. Highway 2 bypass in the 1980s.

Beltrami County prompted more retail business when it decided to sell its fairgrounds to developers, then located where Target is now. The property was sold following a bidding contest between Target and Wal-Mart.

Target opened in the early 1990s.

Once Beltrami Electric Cooperative moved to the new Technology Park in the early 2000s, it vacated the land now covered by Super Wal-Mart, which opened in 2002.

Added in 2004 was the strip mall that now houses Caribou Coffee, Play It Again Sports, Cold Stone Creamery and other businesses.

Home Depot built its store at around the same time.

In recent years, new bank renovations and relocations have brought new construction to Paul Bunyan Drive. Among the recent additions are Security BankUSA, First National Bank of Bemidji, RiverWood Bank and Bank Forward.

The current economy has led one expected retailer - Menards - to put on hold Bemidji development plans.

Menards has proposed, and has received approval for, a new 240,000-square-foot store at the site of the former Spaulding Motors on Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest and employ between 150 and 200 people.

While no opening date was ever announced, work was expected to begin in 2008, but that never happened.