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Furniture store loan request OK’d

BEMIDJI — The city council approved a $65,000 revolving loan fund request Monday for a North Dakota-based furniture store hoping to move into the Bemidji Design Center building.

St. Michel Furniture has plans to move into the building, located 123 Beltrami Ave. NW, potentially by mid-summer, according to its owner Rob St. Michel, who attended Monday’s meeting.

Tiffany Fettig, business loan consultant with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said the business would use the loan to buy inventory. Fettig went to the council seeking up to $100,000, but noted the council could chose a lower amount.

The loan is based on a few contingencies, including that the business finalize a lease agreement.

Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist, who was alone in voting against the proposal, had concerns about using the loan to buy inventory. He said little is accomplished other than replacing the furniture store that is going out of business there.

“Is this the direction that we want to take our revolving loan fund?” he said.

He and Ward 5 Councilor Nancy Erickson voted against expanding what the city considers the rail corridor at an April 15 meeting. That change, ultimately approved by the council, allowed the Union Square area to be eligible for revolving loan funds.

Erickson, however, made the motion Monday to approve the loan request, citing new employees that will earn a salary and benefits.

“I am worried about such a large building so visible being vacant,” Erickson said. “And we have an opportunity to fill that building now.”

St. Michel Furniture has three locations in North Dakota.

BEDA process

The city is making some changes in how it sells its land to developers.

The Bemidji Economic Development Authority met Monday night to discuss its process in the wake of some controversy over how the city arrived at its decision to sell land northeast of the Sanford Center to local developers to build townhomes.

The BEDA ultimately decided to sell that land to B&B Enterprises LLC instead of a Grand Forks-based developer. That developer, Blue Star Investments, sent a letter to city councilors and questioned the city’s process.

Councilors on Monday recommended they appoint the members of the proposal review committee, which receives initial proposals from developers and makes recommendations to the BEDA.

Having councilors appoint committee members would make those meetings public, city manager John Chattin said.

Chattin said the proposal review committee was originally created so that it was not he alone who was making land sale decisions. Two city councilors, a handful of citizens and city staff sit on the current committee.

Those meetings have been closed to the public, Chattin said, as developers may not want to make their initial pitches in a public format.

Mayor Rita Albrecht pointed out that the BEDA is able to close meetings to discuss land sale offers, so confidentiality is not as much of a concern.

Councilors also said they would like basic information about individual proposals in order to compare them better when they come to the BEDA.

“The final decision as to who is the developer of a piece of property belongs at the BEDA table, since BEDA owns the land and BEDA will stand responsible for that sale,” Erickson said.

Tree outlets

The council approved replacing more than 100 electrical outlet receptacles on trees downtown.

The city will contract with Bessler Brothers Electric to replace the receptacles for a little more than $30,000 out of the city’s 2012 unallocated budget surplus.

According to city engineer Craig Gray, there are about 125 electrical outlets on trees downtown.

“Many of these were without power and thus they were not utilized for downtown lights this last winter,” Gray wrote in a memo to the council.

He added the outlets were installed about 25 years ago and have weathered rain, snow and salt from plows throughout those years.

Hellquist dissented, citing complaints from businesses on the west end of town about the city paying for tree lights elsewhere. 

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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