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Gateway to downtown: Community celebrates completion of arch project

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht cuts the ribbon for the Downtown Bemidji archway during a ceremony on Wednesday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Community members and city officials gathered in front of the new Bemidji gateway arch Wednesday to celebrate the completion of the structure that will invite visitors to explore more of what the downtown has to offer.

Located over Third Street at the intersection of Bemidji Avenue, the arch was a joint effort between the city of Bemidji and the Bemidji Downtown Alliance. Both entities put their resources together for the project, coming to $110,950, with the city investing $45,000 and the BDA raising the rest.

“It’s super exciting having it done and there’s been a lot of positive feedback so far,” BDA President Colleen Bakken said. “It’s not often that you get an opportunity to connect so many different entities, from a variety of foundations to the city, individuals and business owners. This structure really represents collaboration.”

“The archway is an example that good things can happen when people come together and focus on an idea,” Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said. “It took a lot of people. This is an idea that many people have thought about and tried to pick up along the way and now it’s finally gotten done.”

Visually, the arch’s designer, Denise Koenigsberg of Widseth Smith Nolting, said it was inspired by the look of downtown buildings and other structures along Highway 197.

“We wanted to have piers that were similar in design to those that are on the bridge going over the Mississippi River and the trail that’s down the road,” Koenigsberg said. “However, those piers are made of stone, since it’s more related to water. These piers were made with bricks instead to match the architecture of downtown.”

Along with being a visually appealing piece of Bemidji, Bakken said an important factor is the structure’s ability to inspire more people to check out the area.

“Around here, we all know where the downtown is, but the rest of the people coming in don’t necessarily know that,” Bakken said. “So, this is something that says, ‘Welcome.’”

“We have this huge barrier between Paul and Babe and our downtown called (Highway) 197,” Albrecht said. “So, when people get out of the car, they take a picture with Paul and Babe and then look around to see what else there is to do. Now, we have a way to invite them into the downtown, it’s a gateway to something more.”

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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