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Township, city officials discuss future of Algoma Park

Bemidji and Northern Township officials agreed Monday that Algoma Park should remain parkland.

But future ownership of the park is not certain.

"I'm more than happy and excited to enhance and maintain the park," said Kevin Waldhausen, a Bemidji city councilor, "I'm just not interested in paying for the deed."

Waldhausen was among nine individuals who gathered Monday afternoon at Bemidji City Hall to discuss the future of the park.

Northern Town Park, also known as Algoma Park, is within the ring of properties that will undergo annexation next year.

According to the Orderly Annexation Agreement, the city will assume "responsibility and authority" of the park - but ownership is not specified.

Northern Township believes the 7-acre land parcel has value.

But Bemidji does not have the money to buy the land, according to city officials.

Al Felix, the city attorney for Bemidji, said he believed the group of individuals who hammered out the Orderly Annexation Agreement pointedly did not discuss compensation for parkland.

"They knew that might be an issue that would spiral annexations talks," Felix said.

The annexation agreement between the city and Northern and Bemidji townships was not easily accomplished.

Felix said he believed officials then wanted future parties "to continue to work together and build on the relationship."

Monday's 40-minute meeting was friendly and cordial. All parties at the table agreed that it is in the public's best interest to maintain Algoma Park as public green space.

"We wouldn't want to do anything, but keep it as a park," said Jerry Downs, a Bemidji city councilor.

Dan Bahr, a supervisor on the Northern Town Board, said there are two issues on the table: the future of the land and possible compensation to the township for the land.

"Having it remain parkland and keeping it dedicated to the public, to me, far outweighs the financial (issue)," he said.

But, he noted, there are others on the town board that feel compensation is justified.

"That park could have market value," Bahr said.

Mention of the recent land sale of Nymore Beach - which will be relocated into an expanded Nymore Beach further south along the Lake Bemidji shoreline - raised the question that perhaps the city had money available for parkland acquisition.

Felix said the money from the Nymore Beach sale will be used to pay back the money the city used to purchase the 140 acres along the south shore.

"We're just trying to recover our base investment," Felix said.

Marcia Larson, the city's parks and recreation director, said the city does have money available in its parkland dedication fund, but that money will go toward the development of Ridgeway Park, a possible neighborhood park along 30th Street Northwest near Ridgeway Avenue Northwest.

Dollars in the parkland dedication fund most recently came from the nearby Vista North development, which does not have a neighborhood park, Larson explained.

City officials noted that there already is money in the budget for 2010 to enhance and maintain Algoma Park. They said the city already will be paying toward the park through the require upkeep and upgrades.

John Chattin, the city manager, said the parkland, if taken over by the city, would become a budgetary liability.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to have to purchase land that we will have to maintain for public use," he said.

Felix noted that he did not believe that it was the intent of the Orderly Annexation Agreement to require the township to deed the land to the city, with or without compensation.

Rather, he said, he thought the township could choose to retain ownership.

"Personally, I don't think we should own a park within the city limits because of the liability issue," Bahr said.

Other options?

Northern Township representatives acknowledged that the board has been approached by a Bemidji baseball field about the possibility of relocating Carrington Field to Algoma Park.

Carrington Field was located in Bemidji City Park but was removed this fall. The park now is undergoing a complete renovation.

The town board, however, wanted to first meet with city officials before opening discussion with the baseball association, Bahr noted.

Ron Gangeness, the chairman of the Northern Township board, said there also was another organization that approached the township with an interest in the park. He did not elaborate.

Mary Israelson, the clerk for Northern Township, said she understood that the idea would be to locate Carrington Field atop an existing baseball field.

"The primary use of the park is a residential, neighborhood park," Larson said. "You wouldn't want to change that."

Future impact

A second park, Putters Park in Bemidji Township, could be affected by the outcome of the Algoma Park discussion.

Putters Park is located in Olympic Hills and will become eligible for annexation in 2020, according to joint planning administrator Mel Milender.