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Bemidji City Council approves outdoor dining for 3 downtown restaurants

The council also approved a project to repair the plaza in front of the Paul and Babe statues.

Outdoor Dining Barricade Photo
Barricades are in place in front of Keg N' Cork to allow for outdoor dining in downtown Bemidji.
(Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI — In a busy session on Monday, May 16, the Bemidji City Council approved outdoor dining applications for three restaurants and moved forward with a project to repair the plaza in front of Paul and Babe.

Outdoor dining applications were approved for Bar 209, That Alien Pizza Place and Keg N’ Cork were all unanimously by the council to set up outdoor dining areas for the summer season between May 15 and Sept. 15.

According to the ordinance, the restaurants can also apply for a seasonal extension of their liquor license to include the permitted outdoor dining area.

The process for approval, which varied from past years, involved submitting a site plan, establishing what furniture and barriers would be used, and scheduling a public hearing for each separate application.

During those public hearings, some neighboring businesses and those living near the restaurants raised concerns they had about the consequences of approving the applications.

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“Parking is unbelievable (downtown),” said Steve Jarranson, who owns an insurance business near Bar 209, “I’m not trying to complain, but smaller businesses like that really feel the impact.”

Members of the council echoed this concern and acknowledged the difficulty of parking downtown during the busy summer months.

“I’ve lived in this community 50 years and we’ve always had parking problems downtown,” said Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer. “We’ve got some work to do.”

Concerns were also raised by members of the public over the application of That Alien Pizza Place, primarily around worries it would negatively affect the neighborhood since it is located in a predominantly residential area.

“I don’t think this will be beneficial to the neighborhood,” said Shirley Walker, who lives nearby, “we have families with small children.”

Walker’s concerns related to worries about potential increases in crime, noise levels and that an outdoor dining space selling alcohol could lead to inebriated individuals hanging around the neighborhood.

Another community member disagreed, however, and spoke at the public hearing about how she believed it would improve the area, make it more popular and bring in business.

The council acknowledged the difficulties that past years’ outdoor dining areas had resulted in. They were, however, hopeful that with the new limitations that this year’s experience would be more positive.

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All three restaurants had their applications approved unanimously by the council.

The council also approved loans for two downtown businesses, and approved a letter of support for Northern Township

A project to repair the plaza in front of the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox was also approved by the council. Cracks and other damage have developed on the statues, which were built in 1937, and some small repairs have been made regularly.

052621.N.BP.PARKS3.jpg
Chris Weaver, of Jensen Conservation Services, repairs Babe the Blue Ox's hoof on Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Paul Bunyan Park. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“If we don’t move now, my fear is that there’s going to be even more damage,” Peterson said. “If we don’t take care of them, all I can say is shame on us.”

The statues have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988. They also serve as a large draw for tourism in Bemidji.

“The park downtown is of national prominence and it deserves some attention,” said Ward 5 Councilor Lynn Eaton. “It deserves our attention.”

The cost for the project is an estimated $271,186.60, and construction would begin this fall. A future project for the restoration of the statues themselves is also expected.

Related Topics: BEMIDJI CITY COUNCIL
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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