New idea for Bemidji's Carnegie Library: proposed plan would house public TV studio

A proposed new use for Bemidji's Carnegie library mirrors its history. "The Carnegie building was initially built with the purpose of dissemination of information. Upstream TV proposes to return to the initial use and intent of the building by un...

A proposed new use for Bemidji's Carnegie library mirrors its history.

"The Carnegie building was initially built with the purpose of dissemination of information. Upstream TV proposes to return to the initial use and intent of the building by unifying information and technology," said Mike Bredon, Upstream TV's executive director.

Bredon on Monday detailed to the Bemidji City Council a proposal through which the 102-year-old Carnegie would be renovated to house shared studio space for Upstream, Bemidji's public access television channel, and government access television. It also could include public amenities for visitors to Library Park, such as public restrooms, and even more, perhaps even managing a bandshell at the Lake Bemidji waterfront.

"To have (the studios) there, at the waterfront, to have it where the public congregate, I think, makes perfect sense," Bredon said. "It's the best idea we've come across."

After more than two hours of discussion, the council tabled the matter to next Monday's regular council meeting so Upstream could present a detailed business plan.


Twice now, the council has voted to plan for a future Library Park that would not include the Carnegie, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But the majority of the council appeared to be receptive to the idea presented Monday, at least for allowing volunteers more time to pursue potential funding sources.

Lewis Crenshaw presented a funding plan that he worked out in response to the January council meeting, when the council majority voiced doubts about the ability to raise the necessary money to save the Carnegie.

"I did not agree with it, so I set out to research funding alternatives," Crenshaw said. "The bottom line is I am convinced that with a combination of state grants, foundation grants and donations from the community, we can fund the library preservation project."

Working with a rough estimate of $1 million, Crenshaw said he spoke with the Minnesota Preservation Alliance and the Minnesota State Historical Society and believes that the community could raise the target figure through grants, such as the state Legacy grants.

He stressed that there would have to be a strong, focused community effort to raise the necessary funds, as grants often seek local matches. But Crenshaw offered that Thief River Falls undertook such an effort as it sought funds to convert its Carnegie into a convention and visitors center. While that city intended to seek Legacy funds, it ended up raising more than $1.2 million through its fundraising initiatives and did not need to apply for grants.

"They developed a vision to use their Carnegie Library as a convention and visitors center. It was one step toward the revitalization of their city center," Crenshaw said. "To me that is similar to our vision of revitalizing our lakeshore."

He received some proof that Bemidjians would be willing to support the project moments later, when the council began discussing whether supporters could raise $10,000 by April 20. Alan Brew, the chairman of the city's Heritage Preservation Commission, pledged $10,000. Another audience member offered $1,000 and a third offered $500.

Councilor Ron Johnson, who also serves on the city's Public Affairs Committee, said the proposal fits within that committee's goals of having the government access working hand in hand with Upstream. The city had discussed the need to both expand and improve the government access television, needing more technological improvements and additions.


"It's going to be important that we share that," he said. "That equipment is expensive."

Effect on park planning?

Marcia Larson, Bemidji's parks and recreation director, told the council that delaying a final decision on the Carnegie could impact planning for renovations at the Lake Bemidji waterfront, which will examine Library and Paul Bunyan parks.

While some believed that Carnegie fundraising could be done in unison with the park planning process, which is slated to kick off with a Thursday night meeting, Larson said she believed it would be difficult for planners to design a park without knowing what the Carnegie's status would be or what amenities it could feature.

"This is something that the consultant and myself would like resolved," she said.

Crenshaw in his discussion included a timeline, in which, by October, the community could determine the actual costs to renovate the Carnegie, even if done in stages, and the Legacy grant amount, if any, the community would be awarded to save the old library.

The council did not take a vote to that effect but a majority seemed open to at least giving supporters until them to try to raise the necessary funds.

"What we have heard from community is that they really, really want to save this building," Bredon said.

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