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City Council votes for Diamond Point project

The Bemidji City Council voted following a Monday evening work session to move ahead with plans to renovate Diamond Point Park. The vote was 5-1 in favor of the action with Council Ron Johnson voting against the proposal and Councilor Jerry Downs...

The Bemidji City Council voted following a Monday evening work session to move ahead with plans to renovate Diamond Point Park.

The vote was 5-1 in favor of the action with Council Ron Johnson voting against the proposal and Councilor Jerry Downs absent from the meeting. Before the final vote, Johnson made a motion to delay voting until the regular meeting March 19 when Downs would be on hand to participate. His motion died for lack of a second.

The bid recommended by the Park and Recreation Commission from Gordon Construction of Mahnomen Inc. came to $2,666,611. By eliminating one picnic shelter, but adding back in stone work on the program center, the City Council brought the bill down to $2,637,306.

"I can assure you if you build the park like this, it will be very well received," said Jeff Schoenbauer of Hopkins-based Brauer & Associates, land use planning and design consultants. Schoenbauer designed the park plan with a new road, playground, beach, program center and picnic shelters in 2001 at an estimated cost of $1.65 million. By the time the state Legislature approved the half-cent Bemidji city sales tax voted in by residents of the city, inflation had taken its toll. In addition, residents at public meetings and in a survey requested additional amenities to bring the cost up by close to $1 million more. The half-cent sales tax is scheduled to sunset after it raises $9.8 million, so councilors have worried over how to spread the remainder of the revenue to cover improvements to the rest of the city parks.

Schoenbauer pointed out that Diamond Point is the city's premier park, a real gem. He said the opportunity to make it into something that will create enthusiasm among users is a rare chance.

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However, Johnson said all the comments he has heard from his constituents have been negative. Councilor Barbara Meuers said she has heard just the opposite, so the positives and negatives cancel each other out.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said he has heard comments both positive and negative, but the process of public input resulted in the plans they had to vote on Monday night.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said she thinks members of the public who voted for the additional sales tax didn't understand that their neighborhood parks might not get the attention they hoped for with such a large amount dedicated to Diamond Point.

However, Schoenbauer said his experience as a consultant on similar improvement projects over the years allows him to predict that people will be pleased with the outcome.

"There will be exponentially more users," he said. "On a nice summer day, I can see 1,000 people using that park. It will be a social center."

He said this year is also a good time to build because of the economic situation.

"We definitely have a good bidding environment," Schoenbauer said. "We definitely hit the sweet spot."

The total of base bids plus alternates, such as a bandstand, which the Park and Recreation Commission recommended eliminating from the final bid, ranged from Gordon Construction's low bid of $2.7 million to Reierson Construction's high bid of $3.3 million. Three other bidders competed for the project: Bruce's Contracting, Christiansen Industrial Developers and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co.

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In the original park plan of 2001, the City Council agreed to make the improvements to the 14-acre Diamond Point first and then move on to other parks, rather than work on several projects at once.

Part of the renovation of Diamond Point will include planting new trees to create a diversity of ages and species. However, Schoenbauer said he rerouted the road to save some of the mature trees in the park.

"Some of the trees will be taken to the mill and be milled and made into benches," he said.

A stewardship committee will oversee the planting of young trees, Schoenbauer said.

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