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BDA urges more City Council involvement on downtown parking

BEMIDJI -- A representative from the Bemidji Downtown Alliance proposed the Bemidji City Council take a bigger role in governing downtown parking on Monday, following citywide controversy over parking regulations.

In a report on BDA activities to the council, Denise Koenigsberg of the BDA's Parking Committee recommended greater cooperation between the council and the committee. A forgotten provision of a 2006 agreement between the BDA and the city that established the two bodies' relationship on parking regulations called for a City Council subcommittee to work with the BDA, she said.

"I think that would be a really good idea, to re-establish ... this working relationship," she said.

Koenigsberg added that the BDA may consider major future parking development in the future, making it all the more important the city take a stronger role now.

The BDA is trying to get businesses to either encourage their employees to buy lot permits or provide them to their employees outright in order to free up parking on the street, Koenigsberg said.

"It's surprising how many employers ... don't quite understand it," she said. "They're actually hurting their businesses by not providing those permits."

In an interview with the Pioneer following her report, Koenigsberg said the provision had been neglected in part due to changes in the BDA's membership, but reviving it would help bring more light to the process of regulating parking downtown.

"It's just kind of dropped by the wayside over the years," she said. "I think it would really help with communicating with the council and then with the public on what issues we're working on, how we're coming about on various solutions to problems."

The BDA's push for greater transparency follows controversy over parking regulations it instituted with the city earlier this year that banned overnight parking in downtown lots during the winter without a permit. City staff was more heavily involved in the discussion between the BDA and the city on the regulations, not the City Council, Koenigsberg said.

Critics said the ban would prompt more drunk driving as bar patrons feared leaving their cars downtown. The BDA now plans to sell temporary permits for $5 to bars for them to give to potential drunk drivers.

Koenigsberg said the parking committee will now be sending notice of upcoming meetings to the city clerk, in order to allow the public works subcommittee to attend meetings and report back to the larger City Council. In the three years Koenigsberg has been on the BDA Parking Committee, she has not seen council members regularly attend meetings, she said.

The subcommittee consists of three City Council members, Koenigsberg said: Nancy Erickson, Roger Hellquist and Jim Thompson.

The City Council also approved a rate increase for downtown lots proposed by the BDA.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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