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Bemidji City Council approves Visit Bemidji board changes

Visit Bemidji submitted a requested amendment to the city’s agreement with the organization reducing the number of board members.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council approved an amendment to the city’s agreement with Visit Bemidji in its meeting Tuesday, June 21, officially reducing the number of the organization’s board members from 14 to 11.

The agreement between Visit Bemidji and the city was last examined in 2014, but two years later in 2016, the Visit Bemidji board redefined its membership numbers. This led to Visit Bemidji requesting the agreement be amended to reflect the alteration.

With changes being made, questions arose on whether efforts should be made to diversify the board, which is primarily made up of representatives from local and city organizations.

“Was there any discussion about getting a community member of somebody else who could provide that perspective of someone who lives in a tourist area?” asked Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera.

Josh Peterson, who temporarily removed himself from his seat representing Ward 2 on the council to speak just as the executive director of Visit Bemidji, responded to the question by explaining the board consists of people with marketing experience to help bring in tourists.

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“This (board) is composed of mostly people who have some kind of marketing experience,” Peterson said, adding that he’s personally reached out to other groups to get them involved.

Peterson went on to explain that Visit Bemidji has been working diligently to diversify throughout its organization and campaigns.

“We’re branching out to reach all groups," Peterson said.

A recent example of this is the incorporation of Chief Bemidji as a town symbol and working to include more Indigenous representation, like the upcoming Anishinaabe Art Festival in July.

“I do think that Visit Bemidji has made incredible strides this past year,” said Mayor Jorge Prince. “I’ve seen firsthand the desire to diversify.”

Visit Bemidji’s promotional work has been paying off, with Bemidji recently being recognized by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top 15 small towns to visit in 2022. Other city’s tourism bureaus have even begun reaching out to ask about Visit Bemidji’s success.

“I would like to see a visitors’ bureau with a staff of two people do more than we are doing,” Peterson said.

Ultimately the amendment to the agreement between the city and Visit Bemidji was passed 4-2, with Peterson abstaining and Rivera and At-Large Councilor Daniel Jourdain opposed.

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Other business

The city council also approved a lease for temporary office space in the Widseth Smith Nolting building in downtown Bemidji, after the basement of City Hall flooded and displaced staff members in April.

Nine of the displaced staff from the Building Department and the Joint Planning Board will be able to move into the WSN building at 315 Fifth Street, on July 1.

“Wherever the JPB is where the Building Department should be,” said City Manager Nate Mathews. “They need to be together.”

The lease is for 18 months, with a rent of $10,931.25 paid quarterly. This rent, which is lower than other locations examined, was one of the selling points of the space.

The council also approved a $1.9 million bond sale to balance the budget for the Wastewater Treatment Plant Project, after the city received a federal grant of $4.4 million.

Total construction for the new plant is estimated to be $6 million and construction is expected to begin in 2023.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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