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Water Carnival location raises concerns, BDA surveying businesses for feedback

BEMIDJI -- With concerns rising to the surface about relocating this year’s Water Carnival, the Bemidji Downtown Alliance wants input from business owners as to what they want from the annual Fourth of July festival.

BDA President Colleen Bakken said a survey has been sent to downtown business owners with three questions:

  • The business owner’s preferred location for the Water Carnival.
  • An opinion on the permanent annual location of the Water Carnival to be on Fourth Street.
  • The importance of the Water Carnival in Bemidji, considering there’s no other location for the event to be other than downtown.

Bakken said the data collected through the survey will help the planning process for the 73rd annual Water Carnival, which is moving to a portion of Fourth Street Northwest after a two-year stint near the Sanford Center.

The Bemidji Jaycees, the organizing group behind the Water Carnival, held a press conference Tuesday to announce the shift in location.

According to Jaycees President Josh Peterson, the move to the area on Fourth Street between America Avenue and Bemidji Avenue was based on new construction and development happening near the South Shore.

As a result, the organization chose to have the majority of the event on Fourth Street along with using the intersection of Fourth Street and Minnesota Avenue and a parking lot near City Hall.

The move, however, did spark some pushback, according to Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews.

“There are some people who are not liking the fact that the downtown is the location for it,” Mathews said Thursday. “Because of that, the BDA met on Wednesday to talk with the Jaycees.”

“We care deeply about the downtown businesses, and I’ve gone to some of the owners since the press conference,” Peterson said. “I’ve spoken with them one-on-one and have tried to find a way to make things work out for the best for both of us. We want to all work together and make it the best Fourth of July celebration that we possibly can.”

Moving forward, Mathews said the council will revisit the issue on Feb. 21 and is hopeful that the survey and communication by the Jaycees will improve the discussion. On Monday, the City Council gave its approval to the move downtown.

“We want them to help the council with making a decision,” Mathews said. “The council is primarily running with the understanding that many of the businesses were communicated with; I think we’re finding out that it wasn’t necessarily the case. The council wants to work with the Jaycees and the business community and do what’s best for the community.”

“We’re really curious to see what the survey says,” Peterson said. “We want to discuss what we can do to make the best of it for the businesses and how we can help them be successful during that time.

“Going forward, I know the council will look at the survey and help us manage a framework to follow so it works for everyone downtown,” Peterson said.

The deadline for the survey is Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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