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Updated: City to receive $750,000 from Legislature for Paul Bunyan, Library parks

BEMIDJI —The city’s plans for redeveloping Paul Bunyan and Library parks will receive a huge boost from the state Legislature.

Legislators approved a final Legacy bill, which funds projects of cultural and environmental significance throughout the state that included an unexpected $750,000 for the parks located on Lake Bemidji.

“We were surprised,” said Marcia Larson, parks and recreation director. Mayor Rita Albrecht said in a press release she wasn’t aware Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, lobbied for the appropriation until he called her with the news.

Larson said the full development of the parks, which are located in the waterfront area that includes the iconic Paul and Babe statutes and the Carnegie Library building, was projected to cost about $3 million. And with only about $725,000 left in local sales tax revenues, it was unclear how those plans could be fulfilled.

The city’s Parks and Trails Commission recommended implementing the redevelopment plans in phases. City councilors expressed some concern with that idea at a work session meeting in March.

Larson said Wednesday they’ll reassess how to redevelop the parks now that legacy funds are available. She anticipates coming back with a plan to use the almost $1.5 million that’s now available.

“This will provide us the funding to get a lot closer to where we want to be,” Larson said. “It makes a huge difference in the planning down there.”

The city’s requests for legacy funds have been turned down in recent years. Larson submitted a grant request for $2 million, according to the press release, but was ultimately denied in December.

 “The grant requested funds for Paul Bunyan Park including upgrades to the parking lot, removing the Third Street exit, scenic overlooks, play area, trail along the lake, improving the plaza area in front of Paul and Babe, a canoe and kayak rental area, and shore land buffer,” the release states.

Bemidji voters approved a local half-cent sales and use tax, which was implemented in 2006, to fund up to $9.8 million worth of park and trail improvements.

Larson said she believed that the legacy money won’t be available until 2015. She said that will give them more time to form a plan before putting shovels in the ground.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Meehlhause said Wednesday’s news was a major step forward.  

“If you’re passing through town, it’s probably the first thing you notice is Paul and Babe and the area around it,” he 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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