Public shares ideas for Diamond Point renovation

From new bathrooms to increased security to safer swimming areas, ideas on what should be done to revitalize Diamond Point Park were in abundance Thursday evening at an open house sponsored by the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Commission.

From new bathrooms to increased security to safer swimming areas, ideas on what should be done to revitalize Diamond Point Park were in abundance Thursday evening at an open house sponsored by the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Commission.

More than 75 people packed into the Council Chambers at City Hall to voice their opinions at the first of what is anticipated to be many open forums designed to involve the community in the Diamond Point planning process.

"Everybody wants it to be very public oriented, respectful of different ideas and inclusive," said Jeff Schoenbauer of Brauer & Associates, the Hopkins, Minn.-based consulting firm hired to oversee the Diamond Point project. "It's always in that public process that those few really great ideas come to the surface."

Those who attended the open house had plenty to say about what they want - and don't want - in what has been referred to as the community's "cornerstone park." A Parks and Rec Commission member jotted ideas down on a giant note pad as members of the audience took turns sharing their thoughts.

Several people expressed a desire to see a multi-purpose building on the park grounds that could be used as a learning center, warming house and gathering place.


Bemidji resident Kelly Larson said the park needs a building that could be utilized in the winter as well as in the warmer months. "A nice place with a fireplace to go away from home to view the lake, the trees and the birds," she suggested.

Larry Young recommended that if a building is constructed, the city should make it a "green building" by pursuing options for alternative energy.

"The new buildings there should go green," he said. "That would start as sort of the beginning point for all the other parks in the city."

Others at the forum lamented that the park is in need of clean, functioning restrooms.

"I think the restrooms that are there now are scary," exclaimed one woman, eliciting murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

Parking and roads were topics frequently brought up at the forum. Some said Diamond Point needs a designated parking area or at least a spot to pull in and unload vehicles. Others said that parking should be moved out of the park area as far as possible, perhaps even across the street.

Schoenbauer added that along with parking, the current road setup within the park will likely be revised during the project.

Don Knudson said he would like the winding roads to remain in the park. "I hope the road would stay through there," he said. "A lot of people use that just as a diversion during the day to drive through there."


Safety and security were also discussed. Several audience members said they were concerned about children swimming so close to the boat launch. They were also worried about the dangerous drop-off in the water in the popular south-side swimming area. Some suggested fencing the boat launch to separate it from the swimming area and better signage to warn people of where it is safe to swim.

"We're going to have to look at those safety issues," Schoenbauer said.

He added that as the park becomes more popular, security will become less of an issue because large crowds will serve as a deterrent to criminals. When more people are using the park, the users will start to police it themselves, he said.

Trees and green space appeared to be very important to those in attendance at Thursday's meeting. Since Diamond Point is one of the few parks in the city with a number of large trees, many said they hope the park renovation won't result in them being torn down.

"The site has such beautiful vegetation," said John Winter. "You want to be sensitive to that; it's one of the resources."

Lois Jenkins agreed. "It's not just a people park," she said. "What are we doing for the trees and the animals?"

Schoenbauer said he plans to work with the Department of Natural Resources and area foresters to assess the area and determine the best plan for trees and plant life.

Cultural factors were discussed at the meeting, as well. An Indian burial ground lies underneath a portion of the park and some at the forum said they wanted to be sure that it was respected. Schoenbauer said the Diamond Point planning committee plans to work with members of the American Indian community to see that the cultural aspects of the park are taken into consideration.


Other ideas didn't go over well with the majority of those in attendance. When one audience member suggested basketball courts and better lighting, several people said that wasn't what they wanted in Diamond Point.

"I think we should leave it as pristine as can be," said Barb Fairbanks. "We should make it more aesthetic and just leave it."

However, Schoenbauer said it was important to hear all ideas, even those that aren't popular with the majority, because they could factor into other park projects in the community.

"Part of the design process is not just knowing what you want to do, but knowing what you don't want to do," he said. "We'll play with these ideas and as the next project comes on board, right away you're going to have a list of things to think about."

As the park planning process continues, Schoenbauer said the public will have many opportunities to share ideas. He said the planning process will continue through the spring with the hope that construction can commence in the late summer. If all goes as planned, he said a grand opening of a renovated Diamond Point Park could be held as early as spring 2008.

"We're really feeling good about the public input so far," he said at the end of Thursday's meeting. "There are some themes developing and a lot of ideas for us to work with."

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