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Final plan for Bemidji's downtown is presented

Marty Shukert with RDG Planning & Design presents to the public the final version of the city's downtown study. Shukert spoke at a meeting Monday night at the Hampton Inn & Suites. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

Rarely does a project involve so many opportunities, said Marty Shukert Monday.

Shukert, with RDG Planning & Design, was in Bemidji to make the final presentation on the city's downtown study.

The study examines the traditional downtown; the south shore of Lake Bemidji; the isthmus, or the link between the two along Paul Bunyan Drive; the railroad corridor and the former Minnesota Department of Transportation site.

"There aren't too many communities with these kinds of opportunities," Shukert said. "It's a very unusual situation and a very exciting possibility."

About 70 people filled a conference room at the Hampton Inn & Suites as Shukert led a PowerPoint presentation showing how the city could be best redeveloped.

"This is a particularly ambitious plan," Shukert said.

The goal of the project, he explained, was to add community value by strengthening the city's economy, enhancing its assets, providing linkages and cultivating a synergy between the traditional downtown and the south shore redevelopment.

"The best plans really take what the city is strong at and enhances those," Shukert said.

Prior to the development of schematics and designs, Shukert and RDG staff spent several months examining Bemidji's economy and potential for growth.

If the plan were to be implemented as designed, the city would have, within about 10 years, 57,500 more square feet of retail space, 40,000 more square feet of office space and 186 new housing units.

Additionally, the city's gateway points (or entrances) would be enhanced and there would be defined linkages between the downtown, Lake Bemidji waterfront, Bemidji State University and south shore. Public spaces would be improved and trails would be integrated throughout the city to increase bicyclists' and pedestrians' safety.

The plan also addresses functionality by providing options for crossing busy roadways, such as Bemidji Avenue.

The following is an overview of the entire 124-page draft copy available through the city's Web site at by clicking on the "Community Development" department.

The following is an overview of the downtown study.


Major improvements proposed for the downtown are intended to improve connectivity and appearances.

Some of this will be accomplished through wayfinding additions such as pedestrian signs and improved alleyways.

RDG also has proposed that Beltrami Avenue be extended south of Second Street to lead through a newly designed Union Square parking lot.

Once leaving the Union Square area, Beltrami Avenue would lead to the new museum district, anchored at the location of the Headwaters Science Center's new location.

The new Science Center is planned to be on a 5½-acre parcel of city-owned land east of the Great Northern Depot Museum. (The Science Center is still working to raise the needed funds for the facility; there are no immediate plans for the relocation of the facility.)

To the northwest of the museum district, RDG has planned housing tentatively called the Downtown Village for about 60-70 new units. The development, which features street-lined homes, creates an urban neighborhood.

It shares a one-acre plot of open space that would serve as a park for Downtown Village residents and downtown merchants and shoppers.


RDG has recommended that the waterfront be redeveloped to extend the existing plaza leading to Paul and Babe down to the waterfront.

Once there, Shukert has suggested that a pier be constructed on the lake to offer slips for boat parking.

The area that now contains the amusement park should be developed into a family recreation area that might contain a spray pool or fountain, play equipment and perhaps a modernized play train, he said.

Railroad corridor

Residential housing is proposed for the area south of the railroad, creating a new development that might also have a public park along the Lake Irving waterfront.

A pedestrian crossing would run under the railroad, Shukert said.

Additionally, development adjacent to the existing warehouse would probably lean toward workshop or creative spaces, possibly for artists.


For the isthmus, RDG has suggested mostly cosmetic changes.

RDG has proposed that parking lots be combined and realigned. New commercial buildings could be constructed and landscaping added to obstruct the views of a parking lot from passersby.

Big changes were proposed for the East-West trail, which replaced the railroad tracks on the south edge of Bemidji Avenue North. RDG has planned for landscaping along the trail that would create a linear park.

The current trail runs along the busy roadway with little greenery to appeal to cyclists or walkers.

MnDOT property

RDG has planned a mixed-use development that would encompass the former MnDOT property and undeveloped land along Gemmel Avenue.

Development ideas include a mix of residential, commercial and office space.

The Bemidji City Council recently voted to send out a Request for Proposals from developers to see how they see that plot of land developing.

South shore

The south shore redevelopment would be anchored on the east by the events center and future hotel.

To the far west would be the improved and expanded boat launch and new Nymore Beach area.

The plans for the south shore mirror those presented by the city and its architects for the Bemidji Regional Event Center and associated redevelopment.