BEMIDJI -- Discussions about a new wellness center and the future of Bemidji's Rail Corridor were both reviewed at a City Council work session Monday.
The corridor is located south of the city's downtown, extending from Park Avenue Northwest to land near the Mississippi River. Bordered by existing rail lines, the land has been in the city's possession since 2003, when it purchased the area for utility work.
Before the city purchased it, the land was the site of gas stations and a coal gasification plant. To make the land suitable for development, the city has shown interest in applying for grants from the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development and Pollution Control Agency.
A wellness center, meanwhile, has been a concept for the Bemidji area for the last several years. One of the specific ideas for such a facility was brought forward in 2017, with the proponents being Sanford Health and Greater Bemidji Economic Development.
That year, the two proposed an estimated $27 million facility which would include a wellness center, gymnasium, pools and ice rinks. The complex, anticipated to be 175,000 square feet, was inspired by Sanford's commitment to invest $10 million in the community.
The project was eventually shelved in 2018. One of the reasons was that the city found issues with part of the concept's funding plan, which included using a hospitality tax to fund a sports commission, which would bring in tournaments to the facility, creating revenue.
On Dec. 7, the council learned that the concept has been reintroduced, with a new idea of having a wellness center in the corridor, as the $10 million is still available from Sanford.
According to Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel, the new concept would be a mixed development, with the wellness center in one section of the corridor, and the rest used for multi-purpose buildings and residential developments.
"Sanford is going to be focused on the wellness center, including the operation and design," Hengel said. "Greater Bemidji is going to focus on what we do best, which is development. We're going to try and put a proposal together that would include the wellness center, but other investment opportunities, so we can entice private investors."
Hengel also said there's no anticipation of the city being financially connected.
"We don't see any scenario where this building is a city-owned facility, or where city taxpayers would be responsible for operational costs," Hengel said.
"I think this is a very good location for a number of reasons," said Ward 3 Council member Ron Johnson. "I know this is just a rough drawing and that there are several different ideas, but, like we've seen with the South Shore, a catalyst does attract development. Certainly housing, but I think there's also opportunities for other businesses. I think it's an exciting opportunity."
During the work session, both the council and concept proponents noted that it's early in the process and will be under discussion in the months ahead.