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Community members give team input

A woman casts her vote during a community brainstorm session Friday night at the Beaux Arts Ballroom at Bemidji State University. The event was part of the Minnesota Design Team’s weekend visit. John Hageman | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The future of the Bemidji area was written on posters lining the Beaux Arts Ballroom Friday night.

More than 100 community members gathered on the Bemidji State University campus for a brainstorming session as part of the Minnesota Design Team’s visit this weekend. The large white pieces of paper that were taped on the walls around the room reflected their love for Bemidji and what they want to see the area become in the future.

“We’ve had this process happen over the years, and it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it’s always new,” said Kevin Cease of various other planning efforts that have happened in the past. “You can see the future, you really can.”

Community members were asked four questions: where in town would you bring a visiting friend, what brings Bemidji together, where should investment go, and what would like to see from the canopy of a hot air balloon 20 years from now. At the end of the night, participants were given four round stickers to cast their vote for their favorite answers.

The Minnesota Design Team, a volunteer group of city planners, architects and administrators from around the state, will use the input from Friday night, information from a tour of the area earlier in the day, and meetings with community leaders and developers to shape their plans for the region’s future. Those will be on display at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Chief Theatre.

The weekend is also meant to help kick off the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board’s planning process.

The event Friday night included a video compilation of testimonials from area residents about what they love about Bemidji. The video booth those videos were filmed in had traveled to various community events recently.

Andrew Mack, an assistant planner with the board, said they were happy with the turnout and the discussion among the participants, which included several city council members, staff and Mayor Dave Larson. Mack said everyone’s voice will have an impact on what the team focuses on Saturday.

“Wherever the sea of dots is showing up, it’s going to send a strong message to the team,” he said. Staff hadn’t tallied the results as of late Friday night.

But some themes became apparent. Paul Carpenter noticed that economic development seemed to be on a lot of people’s minds.

For Betty Christ, maintaining green space and creating a healthy environment for children were concerns, but she said all aspects of the community have to work together.

“I think you can’t isolate…because it’s sort of an integrated thing,” she said. 

Whatever their priorities in future planning, participants Friday seemed grateful to have a voice in the process.

“These people are facilitators,” Carpenter said of the design team. “It’s always good to have an outside organization come in, as long as they’re not trying to dictate a new way of life for you, but they’re just opening our eyes on what’s important to us.”

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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