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Compromise offered for Jaycees' trade show at Sanford Center; Stittsworth Meats unsure whether it will participate

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The advisory board for the city-owned Sanford Center agreed to revise its policy for the upcoming Bemidji Jaycees' Home, Sports and Travel Show, leaving it up to a local vendor to determine whether to participate.

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But Stittsworth Meats, a Bemidji business, hasn't decided whether it will sell its popular brats at the show.

"It's tough to do," said Mychal Stittsworth, adding the family-owned business is still determining whether there's enough money in it to make the event worthwhile. "It's not as good of a deal as they are making it out to be."

At a Tuesday board meeting, members unanimously approved a revision to allow food vendors into the three-day show, which opens March 30, if they pay 20 percent commission on gross sales during the three-day show. Food vendors also wouldn't have to pay commission on gross sales for their first $300 per booth.

In addition, the Sanford Center also would sell its own concessions during the show.

Char Blashill, the Jaycees' chairwoman for the show, presented the organization's case for compromise after Sanford Center management cited a VenuWorks policy requiring 35 percent of gross sales from food and beverage vendors. VenuWorks manages the facility for the city.

Stittsworth said the requirement to share 35 percent of gross sales would eat all of the meat market's profits and shut them out of what would be its 20th consecutive year as a vendor in the event.

Blashill argued the policy was unfair as it had changed from the previous year.

"We expected this last year when we moved here," said Blashill, referring to the Jaycees' decision to switch from the John Glas Fieldhouse to the Sanford Center. "As a citizen of our great community, we (the Jaycees) fully supported the event center."

She added the nonprofit group took on the risk and liability in moving the show, now preparing for its 35th year, to a larger venue.

"It feels like we were lured over here and this year the hammer drops," said Blashill, adding the Jaycees felt a fair compromise was to have the Sanford Center open its concessions grandfather in the show's vendors to sell their products without a commission.

Blashill said social media sites have been bad public relations for the event center and people will boycott it and Bemidji State University hockey, the major tenant, if a compromise couldn't be reached.

"There are people who will take a stand and not come to the show," said Blashill, adding the Jaycees may rent less space in the future and she knows business owners who won't advertise unless there's a change in policy.

Roger Swanson, executive director of the event center, said the Jaycees already pay a reduced rate compared to other tenants at the center, through which the city retains exclusive rights to food and beverage sales. He reiterated that the 35 percent commission for competing vendors is common within the industry.

The policy isn't new, as the previous management didn't follow VenuWorks standards, he said.

"VenuWorks has a fiduciary duty to its client," Swanson said. "I thought I was putting together a pretty good compromise."

A few compromises were discussed at the meeting, and Swanson said it wasn't fair to compare contracts for other events and tenants, particularly third-party vendors who have a permanent booth inside the event center.

"When 100 percent of food and beverage (sales) go out the backdoor, it's not fair to the city," Swanson said.

The approved compromise, suggested by Bemidji City Manager John Chattin, extends only to the Jaycees' 2012 show. It also aims to negotiate a higher commission on an escalating scale through a five-year contract with the organization to reach the 35 percent margin.

The Jaycees have not signed a contract with the Sanford Center for this year's show but the two sides plan to meet this week.

After the meeting, Stittsworth said he wants to discuss the commission policy with other show vendors before making a decision. Stittsworth would be the only Bemidji vendor, although there are other regional vendors.

Blashill said she was glad the advisory board heard her out at the meeting, but had hoped for a better resolution.

"It was not the compromise we were looking for," she said. "All I can do is talk to the food vendors."

In addition, Blashill said she hopes the public doesn't boycott the show since the Jaycees donates money to dozens of local organizations. She also doesn't see the Jaycees moving to back to the John Glas Fieldhouse because it doesn't offer the space or accessibility needed by boat and RV vendors.

Swanson said the compromise was fair as his company aims to "protect the revenue" for the city and he suspects other groups will petition the Sanford Center for lower sales commissions.

"All we can do is what is fair for the city," he said.

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