Bemidji council reviews permit options, future of 2020 summer events

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo

BEMIDJI -- With the coronavirus pandemic shrouding many things in uncertainty, including upcoming summer events, the city of Bemidji is holding off on approving event permits this month.

At the request of staff, the Bemidji City Council discussed the current event permitting procedures at their meeting on Monday. According to City Manager Nate Mathews, his office has noticed event organizers already choosing to cancel events due to COVID-19 concerns.

So far, some events that had been scheduled for June that have since been canceled include the Knights of Columbus Walleye Classic, Loop the Lake Festival, and Mississippi Music at the Bemidji Waterfront.

"I want to be on the same page between staff, council and event organizers in terms of what the expectations are," said City Clerk Michelle Miller.

"I would not approve any permit for July right now because we don't know what July is going to be," said Mayor Rita Albrecht. "That's why we're saying no event permit is going to be approved before May 4. Then, we will check it again based on the guidance of that time on what to do."


Tiffany Vickaryous-Hubbard, executive director at the city-owned Sanford Center, was also given time to speak about operations at the event facility Monday.

"We really don't have a whole lot going on, most organizers have canceled things themselves," Vickaryous-Hubbard said. "We also have a number of weddings in June and that's a tough one. A wedding is a once in a lifetime thing. We have contacted all of the families, and gave them the option to postpone to another date. We've been very flexible with them."

Ward 5 Council Member Nancy Erickson said the facility should still be available for those who had events scheduled, though.

"In the case of the Sanford Center and these weddings, we should make the center available to these people on the dates they've chosen," Erickson said. "And then it's up to their relatives and families to decide whether or not they're going to attend. We have to start turning over personal responsibility to the public."

Vickaryous-Hubbard noted, though, that the facility is bound to following the direction of Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health.

When discussing personal responsibility, Ward 1 Council member Michael Meehlhause said he would prefer event leadership to take it upon themselves to make changes.

"I think it would be better for these event organizers to cancel the event themselves," Meehlhause said. "That's what we've seen happen with most of our June events in particular. I would urge all of them to use caution when planning, such as the All School Reunion. It might not be a bad idea to start coming up with contingencies."

"I'd request that organizers self-guide themselves on this," said Albrecht. "We're counting on organizers to do what they feel is best for their events within the guidelines from the governor's office and Minnesota Department of Health."

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