NATE MATHEWS COLUMN: Busy summer underway in Bemidji
Bemidji summer has arrived...along with our many city initiatives and construction projects both large and small.
The large Delton Avenue, Roosevelt/Shevlin and 25th/29th street renewal projects are moving along well. Thank you for your patience as we make these necessary reinvestments in our streets and public infrastructure. Street projects of these size and scale can bring multiple challenges and our staff and hired contractors always work hard to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. The Minnesota Department of Transportation's current work on U.S. Highway 2 and the coming state Highway 197 overlay will create a very busy Bemidji Avenue in the weeks ahead, so please have patience and understanding as we work with our state transportation partners in this significant and important maintenance project.
South Shore Park is now open and it is wonderful to see folks swimming at the brand new South Shore Beach! If you have not had a chance to check out the park, I encourage you to head to this park and have a look. The shelter is ready for anyone to rent. There are tables and chairs in the shelter, which can easily seat 40 people. Please call Lolly at (218) 333-1850 if you are interested.
The new Downtown Gateway is nearing completion, and we are already receiving wonderful feedback on this new addition. This summer, the city hired part-time seasonal staff to specifically help spruce up our downtown, especially our sidewalks, parking lots and plantings. This new staff member is already making a positive impact in the first few weeks of work and we thank the Bemidji Downtown Alliance for their financial contribution to support this new seasonal position.
In the next few weeks the City Council will be holding some strategic meetings regarding our budget and public service delivery priorities as our city continues to grow. We have some large subjects to tackle involving stormwater management and groundwater treatment, in addition to a new and improved Joint Planning Board, a new Liquor Store project and a probable grant application for a third expansion of the Bemidji Industrial Park. Our community's Tourist Information Center is extremely busy, and we are currently assessing the best way to manage comprehensively the growing public demands for Park and Recreational services, visitors to Paul and Babe and community events that seem to increase every year at the Paul Bunyan Park.
Later this summer, we hope to hold community conversations regarding the city's concept of implementing a food and beverage hospitality tax to reduce the property taxes that fund the Sanford Center. We have delayed scheduling these public meetings at the request of some members of the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Bemidji and innkeepers. These community partners would like the city to consider the implementation of a new sales tax in Bemidji instead of—or perhaps alongside of—a food and beverage tax. While the city has many questions and concerns about raising a new sales tax in Bemidji, we will be working this group of community leaders to provide further specifics as they develop their idea.
As you can see by driving around there are also many new building projects and multiple site and facility reinvestments occurring. Some are more noticeable than others. We have many large-scale multifamily apartment projects under construction in Bemidji, multiple new health-related facilities under construction, new commercial projects under review, new businesses opening up downtown and many residents fixing up their homes. Through May, nearly $9.5 million of construction projects have been permitted by our Building Department, which is a very healthy figure and shows a Bemidji tax base that is rising.
Our emergency responders are also managing a challenging schedule...just driving to work this morning I came across a head-on collision at Second Street/Paul Bunyan Drive....and as I drove by said a prayer of thanks for our excellent Police Department, Fire Department and EMS and county responders. The BDA held its first Mississippi Music by the Bemidji Waterfront concert this past Wednesday and our Beltrami County Dispatch and Bemidji Police proactively came and informed the concert leadership team that a storm was fast approaching. Another example of their excellent work. Lastly, on the EMS note, the Fire Department will be soon accepting applications for paid on-call positions....so if you know of anyone interested in becoming a Bemidji Firefighter, let them know!