Monday’s City Council work session lasted for more than two hours but I was surprised at how short it turned out to be, considering the agenda: it included the downtown overnight parking ban, one of the issues which has garnered some of the most public comment/involvement out of all the topics the city has handled in my time as a reporter here. Here’s a link to my story for context.
As city staff said during the meeting, the controversial no-overnight-parking rule came about because of complaints from businesses. To me, this is an excellent example of a conundrum that faces all cities, everywhere: balancing the needs of economic well-being with public well-being.
Downtown parking in general will become a bigger focus as Bemidji’s population grows and more tourists come. For example, one of the potential buyers for the old Masons building downtown had the idea of maybe tearing it down…. to make more parking space. Customer parking already became an issue earlier this year when the new Buffalo Wild Wings attracted so many customers their cars allegedly started blocking people’s driveways.
I think this new emphasis on parking will create a higher degree of friction in the near future between businesses and the the city, maybe even more than taxes. Craig Gray was clearly frustrated at the meeting because of complaints he’s gotten about plowing, but that’s just one possible conflict. Creating new parking lots (will we get a ramp at some point?), the fees charged for permits and instituting metered parking are all potential flashpoints.
That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be friction between the BDA and the city, though. Say what you will about the overnight ban itself, but I think the BDA’s response to negative feedback is evidence they’re at least serious about working with the city and the public when problems arise. That could change if BDA leadership changes in the years to come, but for now, we’re in a good spot.