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MN lawmakers to get Bemidji events center update

BEMIDJI -- All of the events center plans including the long-term "dream" will be presented to legislators when they visit Bemidji later this month.

BEMIDJI -- All of the events center plans including the long-term "dream" will be presented to legislators when they visit Bemidji later this month.

The Bemidji City Council this week told the Headwaters Regional Development Commission to present legislators with both the current plan for an events center/arena and its long-term desire to also have a complex with a second sheet of ice and a convention center.

The City Council has voted in support of a $50 million events center/arena. Half of the funding for the project would come from the half-cent sales tax. If approved by the Legislature, the remaining $25 million would come from the state.

Representatives from the Capital Investment Finance committee in the House of Representatives will visit Bemidji at 4 p.m. Sept. 18. Members of the Senate's Capital Investment Committee will visit the city at 4:45 p.m. Sept. 25. Both groups are making a trip through northern Minnesota to review bonding requests.

Dave Hengel of the HRDC, which is acting as the project coordinator of the events center, said he would like to present legislators with the entire plan and "provide them with the bigger picture," he said.


The design team, led by Minneapolis firm Leo A. Daly, now is awaiting results from a third-party review of the anticipated costs to construct the events center. Hengel said there is a chance that those figures will show the City Council can actually purchase more building for $50 million than just the events center/arena.

He said the council should not limit itself to just the events center/arena until those figures are in.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the council does want to someday see the entire plan completed, but it cannot now afford to complete the entire project as originally proposed. "We're not necessarily limiting ourselves, but trying to be realistic," he said. "We need to have something concrete for legislators."

Councilor Nancy Erickson said that while she also would like to see the long-term plans presented to legislators, she "definitely" felt like phase one should be shown to the House and Senate committees.

"That's the reality of today," she said. "I think we need to be straightforward."

During the Aug. 27 City Council work session, councilors agreed that both the events center/arena and long-term plans should be presented to legislators.

Hengel said his desire to present more than just the events center/arena was not an attempt to get the council to consider spending more money on the project, but he did not want to see the council limit itself.

"This is not an attempt by anyone . . . to ask you to go more than $50 million," he said.


BSU involvement

Hengel said the House and Senate representatives have specifically asked that Lehmann, Chattin and Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard be present during the visits. It also would be nice if all the council could be present, he said.

Councilor Barb Meuers said the council has asked for a meeting with BSU regarding a potential lease agreement for the events center and that has not happened. She said she has yet to hear what Quistgaard is thinking and has "no clue" as to what BSU would say during the House and Senate visits.

Hengel said he has made it "increasingly clear" to Quistgaard that the city cannot go into the visits on Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 without knowing where the university stands.

"He knows that," Hengel said, adding that he expects BSU to make a statement before then regarding its intentions.

The council said it instead would like to meet with BSU before the visits. Councilors told Hengel they needed at least three days' notice to hold a public meeting, and Lehmann said the week of Sept. 10-14 might be ideal.

The Bemidji Pioneer and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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