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Bemidji area planning process draws area residents

Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board administrator Mayana Rice, left, discusses the community’s goals during a comprehensive planning committee meeting Thursday. John Hageman | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – In the conference room at city hall, Mayana Rice took a red permanent marker and wrote “Goals” at the top of a large piece of paper taped to the wall.

From there, a small group of area residents and community stakeholders hashed out broad visions for the community’s future. Jobs, economic development and a business-friendly environment were accounted for, among other priorities. 

That committee meeting Thursday afternoon is part of a larger comprehensive planning process for the greater Bemidji area – a plan that’s being built from the ground up.

 “I think that the style of this community, the people that are here, they know what they want to see,” said Rice, the planning administrator of the Greater Bemidji Area Planning Board. “We really want it written by the people, for them, so they can take ownership of it.”

The planning process was kicked off when the Minnesota Design Team, a volunteer group of architects, designers and planners from across the state, offered ideas about the future of Bemidji during their visit in September.

Subcommittees with different focus areas, including downtown, housing and land use, have been meeting since then to establish goals for the community.

Rice said they’ve had more than 100 different people participate in the meetings. That included one man from Bagley, who, although he doesn’t live here, has a stake in Bemidji’s success.

“He sets up at the farmers market here,” said senior planner Andrew Mack. “So he cares about what we’re doing here.”

Rice said there’s still a chance for people to get involved. There’s no application process, she said, so people can just show up and participate in meetings.

On March 27, each committee will present its results during a larger public meeting at Bemidji High School, Mack said.

After another round of subcommittee meetings, Rice said, another public meeting will be held to talk about more specific community objectives in the summer, likely in June.

The planning office will work on writing the long-range plan for the rest of the summer, and another round of public meetings will be held in the fall.

“I think we really want to focus on keeping that momentum, keeping people engaged,” Rice said.

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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