BEMIDJI – Economic development officials have laid out a plan to redevelop the rail corridor on the south end of downtown.

The corridor stretches from Park Avenue Southwest to the Mississippi River between Lakes Bemidji and Irving. The city owns a significant chunk of the area.

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Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, and Aaron Chirpich of the Headwaters Regional Development, presented the work plan for developing the rail corridor during Monday night’s City Council work session. The council voted to allow the groups to seek outside funding for staffing and consulting on the project.

“It’s a redevelopment plan,” Hengel said after the meeting. “So it’s not about generic studying, it’s about how do we get to the point that we have redevelopment in the rail corridor?”

Mayor Rita Albrecht said the impetus for the plan were recent conversations between Councilor Jim Thompson and former city engineer Brian Freeberg about getting development going.

“I’m anxious to get something moving on that,” Albrecht said Tuesday.

Ken Cobb, a local insurance agency owner and president of the Downtown Development Authority, said the corridor has a lot of potential.    

“In my opinion, that is the one part of our downtown that really needs to be redeveloped,” Cobb said. “Most of our downtown is in really good condition.”

An extensive plan developed with planning and design firm RDG in 2009 identified potential for a new neighborhood with townhomes, apartments and small businesses.

“I think there’s pretty universal agreement that we’d like to have some housing development downtown,” Albrecht said.

The rail corridor had been considered a site for a regional events center, but the Sanford Center was eventually built on the city’s south shore, a switch that some business owners downtown decried. The south shore has taken up much of the development discussions in recent years.

Hengel said the original work plan for the south shore in 2002 was used as a model for the one being created for the rail corridor. After Greater Bemidji and the HRDC secure funding, potentially from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the U.S. Department of Commerce, they plan to form a task force of stakeholders.

Among the other steps in the work plan handed out Monday night were identifying the scope of the project and developing a site plan.

The work plan will likely take about a year to get through, Hengel said. Most important, he said, will be to get a private developer involved “as soon as possible.”