BEMIDJI -- The year 2020 will be one of change for the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, as the organization plans to make adjustments to its staff and office space.
In a press release Thursday, Chamber officials stated that after more than a year of review, the decision was made in December to eliminate the position of assistant director, currently held by Kristine Bommersbach. Additionally, beginning Feb. 1, the Chamber office will relocate to the Mayflower Building in downtown Bemidji.
"We want to thank Kristine Bommersbach for the valuable work she completed during her time at the Chamber," the release said. "Her passion and commitment to Bemidji is unwavering."
Since its renovation in 2015, the Mayflower Building has become a central meeting place in the Bemidji community.
"It is a prime area for greeting and assisting new startups as well as an easy access location for our existing members to meet with us," the release stated. "We would like to thank the city of Bemidji and Visit Bemidji for their understanding and sincere cooperation in making this a quick and seamless transition."
The Chamber's current home is the Tourist Information Center at 300 Bemidji Ave. N, near the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. The TIC, which is owned by the city, has been home to the Chamber for nearly 25 years. In 2017, Visit Bemidji, the community's visitors and convention bureau, also moved into the TIC.
Because of the move, the Chamber will no longer manage and staff the TIC.
"We cannot thank Carol Olson and Dean Beattie enough for their devotion to the Chamber at the TIC," Chamber officials said in the release. "We also appreciate the many volunteers who have worked at the visitor center. Carol and Dean Beattie's last day will be March 1."
As the ownership of the building won't change, City Manager Nate Mathews said discussions are underway about the future of the TIC.
"We've been consulting with the Chamber about this and also with Visit Bemidji leadership about TIC management. We're talking about how our community can welcome visitors to Bemidji," Mathews told the Pioneer on Thursday. "We, as a city, own the building, and have a relationship with the state of Minnesota for that facility to be a travel and information center. We need to provide a place for the traveling public and visitors."
Moving forward, Mathews said the city is planning to facilitate a community conversation around the TIC's future.
For the Chamber, the new office space will be in the same building as Greater Bemidji Economic Development. The latter organization bought the Mayflower Building, located at 102 First St. in 2014 and opened the renovated structure in May 2015.
In addition to opening its new office space, Greater Bemidji opened the LaunchPad, a program providing flexible co-working space for startup businesses and entrepreneurs who are meeting with clients. In 2017, the lower section of the Mayflower was also remodeled, adding about 7,000 square feet of usable business space.
The upcoming move for the Chamber comes about a month after Abby Randall took over as the organization's director. Randall succeeded Deb Pfaff in the role, who started in late 2017 and left the position in August 2019. Pfaff entered the position after the retirement of Lori Paris, who held the role from 1999 through the end of 2017.
"There is tremendous value in the unity and passion that a membership-driven organization creates, and the direct impact a Chamber has on the vitality of our community's economy," Chamber officials said in the release. "As members ourselves, our board of directors wants nothing more than to strengthen and grow our Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce."