BEMIDJI-Adding promotional items for the Paul Bunyan statue in downtown Bemidji to wear came up during a City Council work session Monday.

The conversation was based on an idea brought forward by organizers of the 2019 Hockey Day Minnesota event, who have suggested placing a Minnesota Wild jersey on Paul during the festivities next year. The custom-made jersey for Paul has already been created, and actually went on the statue not long ago for about an hour as part of a photo opportunity, which was used when it was announced that Bemidji would be the location for the next Hockey Day Minnesota.

However, doing so was in contradiction to a policy set by the City Council in 2014 when Bemidji officials denied a request by the Shriners to put a large hat on the statue and disallow all future requests to dress either Paul Bunyan or Babe the Blue Ox for promotional events to avoid continual and potentially controversial requests.

"It was against city policy. The policy was on record by way of a motion that was in the city minutes that we weren't going to let anybody dress the statues," City Attorney Alan Felix said Monday. "We just can't have that kind of activity going on unless the policy changes. If we are moving on from this point with this understanding that a policy has to change at the Council level, then it has to be know that this can't happen again."

In a statement sent to the Pioneer, event organizer Brian Bissonette said the committee spoke with city staff in October and again just before the jersey was placed on Paul Bunyan for the photo opportunity.

"We did have permission to do it. I can't be sure, but I would guess the city didn't think much of it because it was going to be done during the middle of the night and for only about an hour," Bissonette said.

Kevin Waldhausen, another event organizer, also touched on the photo opportunity and the Paul Bunyan idea for next year's event Monday, saying that, "we went through some clear channels with the appropriate people we felt we needed to. Our committee is not guiding or working for a policy change with the city of Bemidji whatsoever regarding Paul. If the council can grant permission moving forward, we'd be ecstatic, but only if that's approved through policy. Is it a demand or direct request? Absolutely not."

Because Ward 5 and At Large Council members Nancy Erickson and Dave Larson were unable to attend Monday's meeting, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht tabled discussion on the statues for a later date, where the policy could be reevaluated.

"I feel the council needs to have a conversation on this at a future date. We want input from Visit Bemidji and the Chamber, too. Lots of people have interest in this. There's a lot of chatter out there right now, so I think it deserves a robust discussion," Albrecht said. "Paul and Babe are iconic Minnesota symbols. Paul Bunyan does mean a lot to our community and to our state. We want to keep that in mind."


Preparing for Hockey Day

Monday's conversation about promotions related to the Paul and Babe statues were part of the broader topic of Hockey Day Minnesota. The annual event is run by the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League and celebrates outdoor hockey across the state.

Every year, the Wild select a community to have outdoor games played between high school teams, with the event being in St. Cloud for 2018. The high school games, and special features on the selected community, are produced and broadcasted throughout the day by the Fox Sports North channel.

On Jan. 20, at the close of this year's Hockey Day, Bemidji was announced as the home of the event in 2019. Work was already being done before that date to secure a location.

The place in mind are two lots just west of the Sanford Center parking lot, on both sides of Central Avenue Northeast.

"We think it works best with all the considerations," said Bemidji Hockey Day Minnesota organizer Tom Kuesel. "Not only for the size, but also for having Lake Bemidji in the backdrop for Fox Sports North and the closeness to the Sanford Center.

Of the two lots, the one to the west of Central Avenue would be used for the hockey rink. The one to the east, meanwhile, would serve as the location for what Kuesel called the Hockey Village, which is an area to accommodate food and beverage space.

According to Kuesel, the contract that the local committee has signed with the Minnesota Wild requires that the organizers provide refrigerated ice. As a result, the committee plans to grade and level the land and create a sand base for the ice's foundation before returning it to its previous condition after the event is finished.

On Monday, Kuesel said the committee was requesting that the city put a hold on development on those two lots until after the event and to also close Central Avenue to improve pedestrian traffic.

Additionally, Kuesel said organizers plan to discuss and coordinate other matters with the city moving forward, such as snow removal, law enforcement and using light poles for banners.

"It's going to be an all hands on deck, collaborative effort to pull this event off," Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews said.