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Minnesota Design Team takes tour of Bemidji

Members of the Minnesota Design Team tour downtown Bemidji Friday afternoon. The group was getting an idea of the area before a community brainstorming session Friday night. John Hageman | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – A bus packed full of city planners and administrators from across the state traveled across the city Friday afternoon.

Many shouted out questions about various development plans and the town in general, as staff members from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board acted as guides.

The tour was part of the first full day of the Minnesota Design Team’s visit to Bemidji. The volunteer organization’s incoming chair, Paul Mandell, said the tour helped give team members a lay of the land for future sessions over the weekend, including the community brainstorming session Friday night.

The team will use ideas from Friday night’s session to design plans for the area. Those designs will help launch the joint planning office’s comprehensive plan.

The bus tour launched from the Beltrami County History Center, and went through the Nymore neighborhood. Mayana Rice, the planning administrator for the joint planning office and a resident of the area, pointed out several commercial properties like a laundry business and thrift shop dispersed within a residential area.

From there, the tour ventured to the Sanford Center, an area that should prove to be of interest to planners over the weekend. A large chunk of city-owned land near the center and along Lake Bemidji remains undeveloped.

There are plans to build a hotel connected to the Sanford Center, and some talk of adding a marina.

The tour then moved by some of Bemidji’s biggest draws, including the Bemidji State University campus, the Sanford Medical Center and the commercial strip along Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest. Several team members pointed to the vacant site near the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area and the area near the Beltrami County History Center as potential sites for future development.

Jon Sevald, a member of the team and a planner with Sherburne County, said they heard from some community leaders during sessions Friday morning that there is a need for more affordable housing and more public transportation.

But he said one of the main challenges will be coming up with design plans for an already-vibrant town.

“Bemidji’s got a lot going for it already,” he said after a walking tour through downtown, which included stops at the Chief Theatre and Carnegie Library. “I think it’s going to be a little bit of a struggle for us to figure out what improvements need to be made.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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