Bemidji City Council continues debate on outdoor dining

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

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo

BEMIDJI — Whether downtown Bemidji will have outdoor dining options this summer is still under debate.

In a lengthy meeting on Monday, Feb. 7, the Bemidji City Council held a second reading of ordinances related to outdoor dining in the downtown area.

The proposed ordinances include the possibility of restaurants setting up dining areas in the parking spaces in front of their business, but they would need a permit to do so.

Current designs would limit the spaces restaurants could take up to three, but would be limited to the building’s front dimensions, so that neighboring businesses would not have their parking taken up.

In an adjustment to the previous draft, the dates outdoor dining would be allowed were constricted by one month on either end of the summer. The new timeframe would be May 15 to Sept. 15.


Also adjusted was the cost, the council unanimously voted to set the prices for each parking space in tiers, with the first costing $300, the second an additional $400, and the third at the price of $500. This would be in addition to other permit and licensing fees.

As has been the case in previous public hearings about outdoor dining , strong opinions emerged from both council members and the general public.

“The parking downtown is critical,” said Bill Batchelder, Bemidji resident and candidate for the city council’s open Ward 5 seat. “I’m not on board with it, there are many people who are not on board with it.”

Batchelder, and other attendees at the meeting, made it clear that their issue was not with outdoor dining itself, but the use of parking spaces to facilitate it rather than just using a portion of the sidewalk.

Also under considerable debate was the subject of barriers to block off dining spaces from the street. Last year the city rented large orange barriers approved by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

However, these were agreed to be an eyesore and alternatives have been discussed. The current draft of the ordinance places the responsibility of selecting and paying for barriers on the restaurant, with the stipulation that any barriers would need to be approved by the city council beforehand.

Ward 4 Councilmember Emelie Rivera expressed concerns about the lack of language surrounding safety requirements for these barriers.

“This is a no-go without the proper safety measures in place,” she added.


Other cities with outdoor dining have used other barrier methods, which might not meet the state’s recommendations. There is nothing requiring barriers to meet the state's standards.

“No option carries no risk,” said Mayor Jorge Prince, highlighting the gray areas between different options.

When the ordinances involving the issues of street space dining and barrier options came up for approval, both passed but were opposed by Rivera.

“I’m not comfortable with it as it’s written,” Rivera said.

With adjustments made and the second reading complete, these ordinances will come under discussion a third time at the city council’s next meeting, where they will need a unanimous vote to pass if further adjustments are made.

Northern Township and business loans

During the meeting, the council also approved two loans to downtown businesses. Both the Minnesota Nice Café and The Hair Affair requested revolving loan funds from the city to help them with expansion projects near the Rail Corridor.

Minnesota Nice has plans to expand its catering business, which involves new construction. The Hair Affair will be refurbishing the building formerly home to T.Juan's Mexican restaurant, to establish a full-service salon.

“I think this is really going to impact that area,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Ron Johnson. “We felt it was worth our involvement in this.”


Also discussed was the possibility of a letter of support for Northern Township’s plan to provide sewer and water services to Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge.

This comes after the decision for Northern Township to fund and construct their own water and sewer system, rather than other proposed plans that would have included partial annexation to the city of Bemidji.

Northern Township would be responsible for the design, engineering, construction and maintenance of the system, and would have to establish a fee system for the township’s residents.

A letter of support was requested from Bemidji, to help Northern Township in gaining funding from the Minnesota Legislature later this year.

As plans are still being considered, the city council agreed to draft a general letter of support for the project but welcomed further discussions with the township surrounding their plans.

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