BEMIDJI -- A local group of nearly 30 interested citizens gathered on Wednesday to share ideas on what a Bemidji community wellness facility could look like.
During the meeting, those in attendance participated in an exercise to see what ideas were popular for a community center. They gave input on what should be included in the complex, with options including a sport and/or wellness area, an aquatics facility, a multi-purpose community room and ice rinks.
A sports complex, which could include exercise equipment, a jogging track and gymnasium, was a popular option following the exercise. To get more community-wide insight into what the Bemidji area wants, organizers created an online survey.
The survey is available for people to take at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/X3VQDTF.
Sal Di Leo, a resident of Lake George, began organizing the effort in fall. Since then, he's organized a few meetings with community members to develop a wellness center. Over the course of the process, Di Leo said he wants the process to be a fresh start for the community, as this isn't the first time the idea has been circulated.
In 2014, there was an effort locally to bring a YMCA to the city. Advocates backing the idea were eventually brought into the discussion of another wellness center project in 2017, which was organized by Greater Bemidji Economic Development and Sanford Health.
In 2017, the two entities announced interest in creating a multi-purpose facility, including buildings dedicated to a wellness center, a sports complex and ice rinks. The structure was estimated at 175,000 square feet and about $27 million. To build the facility, Sanford was planning to commit $10 million, while another $10 million would be raised and the rest would be debt financed.
In developing the idea, backers proposed a concept of establishing an amateur sports commission to bring in tournaments and events, with the expectation that it would generate revenue. The proposal was to implement a special use tax to fund the commission.
As the concept developed, though, concerns were raised by officials from the city of Bemidji, who cited potential conflicts in using tax dollars in a way that's non-compliant with state laws. Eventually, the project was shelved.
Moving forward, Di Leo said he wants the current process to be transparent with no right or wrong ideas. After the Wednesday meeting, Di Leo said the next meeting will likely take place in about 30 days.