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Bemidji City Council: City sets park priorities

Five parks and trails projects have been set as priorities for the $1 million remaining in sales-tax funds.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted 6-0 in a work session to adopt the recommendations from the city's Parks and Trails Commission. Councilor Barb Meuers was absent.

Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson presented the Parks and Trails Commission's plan.

Projects in the plan are:

- The development of Ridgeway Park for $250,000.

- On-street striping and signage for bike routes that include the 15th Street On-Street Bikeway, Irvine Avenue route and Lake Irvine Bike Route for $27,478.

- The redevelopment of the Lake Bemidji waterfront for $650,000.

- Cameron Park boat launch improvements for $50,000 (this would be contingent on a funding partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources).

- Nymore Park development for $50,000.

The most-discussed item during the work session was the planned development of Ridgeway Park, which would be located along 30th Street Northwest between Delton and Ridgeway avenues.

The park would feature the relocated Carrington Field, a baseball field that was removed from plans for Bemidji City Park, which is currently under reconstruction through the use of sales-tax funds.

Ridgeway Park has been an oft-discussed possibility at recent Parks and Trails Commission meetings as the group has been trying to work out an agreement with North Country Health Services.

NCHS is required, due to the expansion of its Neilson Place, to deed to the city of Bemidji 4.3 acres of land. But there also is a possibility that NCHS could give the city 15 acres, which would cover all parkland dedication requirements for future expansion.

Before it makes that decision, however, NCHS has requested from the city a plan that details its intent for development and funding of Ridgeway Park.

Mayor Richard Lehmann asked if that partnership has yet been established between NCHS and the city.

"We've been working diligently to try to make it that," Larson said.

She reported that NCHS appears to support giving the city the 15 acres, but has included some caveats. The Parks and Trails Commission will discuss the issue further during Tuesday's meeting.

Several groups, in addition to NCHS, have indicated a desire to partner in the development of Ridgeway Park.

"Rotary has committed to helping us with the playground unit," Larson said, adding that the organization may also be willing to donate some funds.

Rotary has previously worked to increase recreation and to decrease the number of police calls in that neighborhood.

The Bemidji Noon Rotary Club several years ago installed a softball field in the lot. The neighborhood improvement program, from 2001-2003, included weekly meetings, picnics, building of outdoor recreational facilities, and a summer recreational program, according to the Rotary club's Web site. AmeriCorps for one year came and hosted baseball games and other activities.

After two years the results were a 33 percent decrease in police calls and the area was designated a Drug Free Zone. Vandalism was substantially decreased.

Also, the Bemidji Area Tennis Association has asked for about 4 acres to have indoor courts, locker rooms and an observation deck. BATA would pay for the building itself, but has requested the acreage.

Larson said the support from community organizations will be crucial as the allotted $250,000 from sales-tax funds won't cover the entirety of the park's development.

"We would have to partner to be able to do this," she said.

Ridgeway Park would serve area developments including Ridgeway Apartments, a low-income housing development, and Vista North, a townhome development.

The park is planned to feature trails, a play structure and areas for horseshoes, bocce ball and basketball, in addition to the new baseball field and tennis facility.

"This allows us to follow through with our commitment to relocate Carrington Field," said Councilor Jerry Downs, who also serves on the Parks and Trails Commission. "It's actually a continuation of our activity park (City Park)."

Carrington Field was removed from plans for the renovated City Park as the new park includes a four-field softball complex (it had three softball fields before), a new skate park and other new amenities.

Funding for the relocation of Carrington Field would come from a variety of sources, including up to $350,000 from the city.