It’s not easy being a city council person in any city. There is nothing really glamorous about the position. And you certainly are not going to get rich quick. The meetings are usually several nights a week, and can get long. It is politics 101…ground floor. And being community governments of the people, the subject matter you deal with sometimes involve vocal segments of people filled with passion for their cause.
The current battle the City has initiated is one that any smart politician will tell you cannot be won. That battle is on regulating dogs and cats. In most cases the city has the best interest in mind of the MAJORITY of its residents. But as we are finding out the minority can be vocal, spirited, and unforgiving. Two city council sessions ago at the first reading of the new dog and cat ordinances, a public hearing was held. Although speakers were supposed to be limited to 3 minutes, the speeches went on and on and on. Two weeks go by and on Monday May 3rd the second reading of the ordinance is made. The chambers are filled again with the anti establishment dog and cat lovers of the city and they want to be heard again. Council member Greg Negard decides to recommend another public hearing. And another Bemidji City council meeting ends up being dedicated to the dog/cat ordinance. On Monday, May 17th the third reading of the ordinance occurred. And again after some debate and discussion, the matter was finally put to rest. Total commitment: 3 city council meetings taking up the end of April and most of the month of May. And meanwhile our city is mum on Zorbaz.
Yes I said the Z word. It’s uncomfortable and everyone is hoping it just will go away…probably including myself. But it continues to be talked about and now that the cat matter has been taken care of I would challenge our city leadership to tackle something that is costing us money in the form of undeveloped Southshore land in which we are paying interest on for its purchase.
Let’s refresh ourselves with the situation. We have a beautiful event center that will be opening in October of this year. The city is owner and developer of the 147 plus prime lakeshore property. (I could bring up the fact that we let go the one person who could have jump started this project …our Community Development Position eliminated to save $50,000 in salary which we are paying for now dearly). Our hope is to get a major hotel along with several mixed use parcels of retail and housing. Anyone who develops property knows you have to give something away with the first parcel to get double the value with the last parcel. A legitimate developer with a well known restaurant chain approaches our council with $5 million dollars of their own money, not asking for tax increment financing, not asking for reduced fees, merely asking for one extra hour opening for his establishment….something most of the state handles just fine. Not only would it spur future development, it would begin generating city sales tax revenue. The developer is so sure of the deal, he uses $100,000 of his own money to finance sketches and blueprints. The developer is so sure of the deal, they have construction ready to start immediately, adding much needed local jobs this summer. The restaurant chain is so sure of the deal, they readily prepare for an OCTOBER 1st opening to coincide with the Event Center. They only forgot one thing…this is Bemidji. (Below picture of Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes)
We hear about how it will interfere with snow plowing. We hear about an poorly run establishment in Wilton that was open till 2 am and all the problems it had (even though several bars in Turtle River a mere 5 miles from Bemidji are open till 2 am and nobody has a problem with them). Instead of yes, we hear no, can’t be done, no way. And we send the foreigners (non Bemidji outsiders) packing. Yet we hold the torch up hoping someone from somewhere will knock on our city hall’s door ready to build a hotel (but for heaven sake don’t think you’re bar will be open till 2 am ever)!
Ok. Which local politician is going to be a leader in this election year to step forward and tackle a real problem? We’ve lost Zorbaz for this year. Let’s at least break this down into pieces and tackle the 2 am closing time. It will surface again. Charge an extra fee for bars who elect the 2am closing time. Offer a 2am closing time 25 times a year at the owners choice of dates. Find some compromise if you don’t want them to be open every night. But now is the time to deal with it. After all, the tumbleweeds are growing pretty high on the Southshore…growing just as interest payments on the bonds we used to purchase the property.
(As a footnote…I have no relationship with Zorbaz, have eaten in the DL location once, and have no financial incentive such as construction, etc. to benefit from this project other than soon becoming a taxpayer to the city of bemidji by my township being annexed).