As a theme, everyone goes “ahhha” when they hear about the City of Bemidji’s theme to be a “City as a Park”. Years ago with $10 million dollars dedicated for parks and trails thanks to our .5% city sales tax, great ideas were developed and plans put into place for the money. Unfortunately due to cost overruns, unplanned additions and new acquisitions, many local residents and businesses are upset that probably the most visited park of in the city…Library Park and Paul Bunyan Lakefront Park is now left at the end of the funding trail. Amount dedicated for the most visited park, home of Paul Bunyan and Babe, where every tourist stops….$650,000 out of $9,826,050. That’s 6.6% of the total money raised.
How did this happen? First priority became Diamond Point Park. Certainly due to its age, nobody could argue that it was in need of some rehabilitation. That project ended up costing $3,336,291 dollars….an amount that was over budget. It is well documented that not everyone was in favor of all that was done. The end product though has been well received, the project received accolades and awards, and the area residents have used and enjoyed its attributes.
As time has progressed since the sales tax passage, several smaller projects have come up and has used the funds.
West Shore Trail $220,774
Midway Trail Bridge Study $36,000
Midway East/West Trail $117,400
Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge $40,236
Nymore Warming House $194,445
Carnegie Library Study $5000
Parkland Acquisitions $659,587
That leaves a balance of $5,216,317 with the above and the cost of Diamond Point Park.
One may ask how these projects are brought forth. 7 citizens along with 2 council representatives (Jerry Downs and Kevin Waldenhausen) serve on a Parks and Trails Commission. They serve merely as an advisory group, meeting once a month. All monetary proposals are brought forth to the city council for review and approval.
The next major project to proceed was CITY PARK. Several changes and additions have been added on to that project which is currently being worked on. It includes 4 softball fields, informal ice skating area, outdoor hockey rink, disc golf course, and ski trails. The addition of the skateboard/bike park which many of the youth of the city worked hard in fundraising for will be built in the new park.
City Park’s current budget: $3,429,075. Add into its budget the $150,000 the city pledged towards the skate/bike park and we’re up to $3,579,075. Oh yes, the old park had the Carrington Baseball field in it which could not be fit into the new configuration. An agreement was reached between the City and the Baseball Association that the city would find and build another facility for baseball and dedicated $350,000 for this facility. Total cost associated with everything involving CITY PARK: $3,929,075.
That leaves $1,287,242 out of the original almost $10 million dollars. And still not a plan or a spade of dirt turned at the city’s most visited park…Paul Bunyan/Library Park.
Meanwhile, our city council has now earmarked some additional money’s from the Park and Trail Sales Tax account. They include $50,000 for Cameron Park, $50,000 for Nymore Park, $100,000 for the Clausen Ave. Trail, $27,748 for on street signage/striping (biking), and $159,764 for the Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge design and construction site. That leaves $899,730 for poor ol’ Paul and Babe and the Library.
Now the parks commission and council has expanded our parks again by accepting the North Country Regional Hospital’s land on Ridgeway Avenue. The city has now committed another $250,000 of the sales tax revenue for that park.At the Dec. 8th, 2009 meeting of the Parks and Trails Commission, Marcia Larson parks director gave a report from a consulting firm of a cost of $1,100,000 to develop this park. That included a $533,000 baseball field (with press box/no lighting), $425,000 for the rest of the park and $150,000 contingency fund. (Remember the Bemidji Baseball Association has committed to put up $150,000 towards the baseball park). Plans were approved to move forward with a “phased” project and to work with North Country Regional Hospital (owners of the land) of what amenities maybe included in this park and to begin seeking funding sources. As a point of reference…this park will be about 6 blocks from the $3,929,075 CITY PARK! It is also roughly about 9 blocks away from NORTHERN PARK…a park that the City of Bemidji is annexing from Northern Township.(and a park with repair needs).
Bottom line folks…that leaves about $650,000 for Library Park/Paul Bunyan Park…our city’s most visited park. This is the park that hosts the 4th of July Water Carnival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Youth Rally, and Art in the Park. (The Jaycees have over $30,000 invested in their own electrical boxes for vendors for their event because of the antiquated power supply at the park). This is the park that Rotary has invested in with pavilions and with keeping up Paul and Babe. This is the park that is next to our Downtown and our busiest roadway through town.
Certainly all these projects are worthwhile. No illegalities or political tricks are inferred by this piece. City as a Park is a noble statement. But have we taken forgranted our waterfront parks. They are in dire need of help. The old train ride and ice cream shack are begging for a new life. What will $650,000 buy? Not much. My suggestion is to build the baseball stadium at the new Ridgeway Park location with the $350,000 budgeted, add to it the $150,000 from the baseball association, and that’s it. Maybe the tennis association wants to use some of the property. Then take the $250,000 dedicated to Ridgeway park and add it to the $650,000 of the waterfront. Skip a few other of the smaller projects and at least get the waterfront park rehabilitation amount up to $1 million dollars. Maybe a splash park for the lakefront? Maybe erosion or geese control? Maybe a boathouse with a snack shack and skate rentals? This area has gotta be worth more than 6.6% of $10 million dollars! There is time to rectify and make this right.
Part 2: How Can the City of Bemidji afford to maintain 20 parks?