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'Great spot for it': Bike rack installed on street, no loss of parking

Harry Aylesworth, left, steadies the high-wheel bicycle rack as sculptor Al Belleveau anchors the controversial rack Tuesday morning in the street in front of Patterson's Menswear in downtown Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - The bike rack is back.

The brightly colored bicycle rack that in recent months has spurred controversy in downtown Bemidji was installed Tuesday morning in its new location at the corner of Third Street and Beltrami Avenue outside of Patterson's Menswear.

The bike rack still is on the street but now is in front of a yellow curb; no vehicle parking is lost due to its presence.

"I think it's a great spot for it," said Steve Patterson, owner of Patterson's Menswear. "I hope this is a compromise that satisfies everybody and provides a bike rack for all of the cyclists in the Bemidji area."

The bike rack was created by local artist Al Belleveau in memory of local resident Muriel Gilman's cycling-loving brother who died in 2006. It was installed in a parking spot outside of the Cabin Coffeehouse and Café for a half-season in 2010 and a full summer season in 2011.

A number of downtown businesses objected to that location due to the loss of the parking space. Complaints prompted meetings of the Downtown Development Authority, which oversees downtown parking, and the formation of a special taskforce to address the issue.

The bike rack typically is installed from May 15 to Oct. 15.

"We were happy to get this resolved and get the bicycle rack installed on schedule," said Ken Dobb, DDA president, in a press release. "Over the past few weeks, I have heard from dozens of individuals who love this bike rack, and I know that people are going to be thrilled to see it back up."

The bike rack consists of two high-wheel bicycles, one blue and one yellow.

"I'm just happy to see it back up. Noemi put a lot of effort into trying to figure out how to get it back up this year," said Belleveau, referencing Noemi Aylesworth, the owner of the Cabin who has fought on behalf of the bike rack. "She's satisfied and that makes me satisfied. I wish they hadn't made her work so hard."

The bike rack now has two additional mini sculptures sitting atop it: A coffeepot with flowers is on the seat of the blue bike and an ant is on the seat of the yellow bike.

Both have messages. The coffeepot says "for Bill," referencing Gilman's brother for whom the bike rack was built. The ant asks passers-by to please respect the bike rack.

Belleveau said the bike rack was bent and broken last year. He doesn't know who or why, but said he believes it will be safe in its current location.

"The bike rack is becoming a landmark in downtown Bemidji and a focal point for tourists and locals alike," Cobb said in the release. "As it is important to the DDA to be responsive to the concerns of all downtown businesses, we are also happy that this solution preserves the existing parking spaces. The DDA's mission is to promote and enhance our vibrant downtown, and we believe that this solution allows us to move forward as a community."