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Events unfolding: Choosing management firm next step in Bemidji Regional Event Center timeline

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The physical presence of the Bemidji Regional Event Center continues to take shape. But its internal operations now need resolution.

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Bemidji will soon select one of two firms that will manage the BREC.

Two facility management firms - Global Spectrum and VenuWorks - responded in May to the city's request for proposals from firms interested in operating the BREC.

According to a December brochure on the company's Web site, Global Spectrum manages 81 facilities, of which 32 are arenas, 25 are convention centers and eight are stadiums. It runs the Fargodome, a an indoor stadium that seats 19,000 for Division I-AA North Dakota State University football games.

Global Spectrum is headquartered in Philadelphia and was started in 1994.

VenuWorks, according to its Web site, manages 28 facilities, including at least nine arenas, eight convention centers and seven theaters. It operates the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, which seats 13,500 for Division I University of North Dakota football games.

VenuWorks used to be known as Compass Facility Management, which was formed in 1996.

There is no clear front-runner for the contract, City Manager John Chattin said last week.

But there is something coming up next month that may break the apparent tie: the firms' respective choices for general manager of the Bemidji facility.

Whoever is hired as general manager, who will be an employee of the management firm and not the city, is crucial to the project's long-term success.

So both companies will be hosting their GM interviews in Bemidji Aug. 3-4. Each is expected to have no more than three candidates.

"As the GM will be key to the successful operation of the BREC, we want to ensure that we have the right person for the job before a final facility management firm is selected," Chattin wrote in a recent newsletter to the Bemidji City Council.

Representatives from the city, Bemidji State University and various consultants will take part in the GM interviews along with the two firms' representatives.

Chattin agreed that it was possible that the top choice for the management firm could be decided based on the strength of the GM candidates - or one candidate in particular.

The group charged with making a recommendation on the management firm has had a "very difficult time" deciding on a preferred management firm, he said. So, they've asked themselves to consider what the most important component is.

"And that's the GM," he said.

Those invited to take part in the interviews, in addition to Global Spectrum and VenuWorks representatives, include Chattin; Rita Albrecht, the city's community development director; Gayle Quistgard, executive director of VisitBemidji; Roger Hellquist, Bemidji city councilor; Bill Maki, BSU's vice president for finance and administration; Bill Krueger, a consultant from Conventions, Sports & Leisure; and Bill Merrill, a consultant from the Leo A Daly architectural firm.

The city's selection of a management firm, and the firm's subsequent hiring of a general manager, is needed to make decisions on the future of the BREC.

Outstanding big and little details - such as naming rights, indoor advertising, food service and telephone systems - cannot be explored without a decision.

"We've been delaying a lot of things until we get a facility management firm on board," Chattin said.

More so, event planners are now unable to book the BREC for conventions or concerts without a firm.

The city has been fielding calls for several months, Chattin said.

He has a list of those interested, Albrecht has kept a list, and Quistgard has her own list. Eventually, those lists will be turned over to the management firm.

"We have fielded some calls (from planners) looking for space," Quistgard said.

The BREC is becoming more public. From the progression of construction to online advertising, people farther and farther from Bemidji are hearing about the project. And taking interest.

There are three virtual tours of the site that are being presented throughout the community - and elsewhere.

Three entities - the city of Bemidji, VisitBemidji and BSU - partnered to contribute toward the cost of a virtual tour, an online video said, that had its narrative changed to fit the needs of each.

Links to all three videos may be found on the Pioneer's Web site at www.bemidjipioneer.com.

The city's tour is directed at potential investors who might be interested in buying land in the 141.5-acre south shore redevelopment, of which the BREC is the anchor.

VisitBemidji's video is targeted at planners interested in the BREC's convention space.

And, BSU's tour was narrated to promote its new arena as it requested admittance into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which it won at the end of June.

"It's online now and people are beginning to see (the BREC)," Quistgard said.

But, she and city representatives are unable to officially book events.

The management firm will set pricing and dictate the events calendar, which also will depend on the home schedules for the BSU hockey teams, which will be the anchor tenants of the BREC.

Quistgard is planning to attend the August interviews with the general manager candidates and the two potential management firms.

"It takes time to sort it all out," she said, "to find the differences between them."

The city did not release the proposals from Global Spectrum and VenuWorks to the Pioneer in time for review for press time.

VisitBemidji plans to relocate from its existing offices, inside the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce building, to the BREC.

Quistgard said VisitBemidji believes it can partner with the BREC and its management to market the facility and continue marketing the greater Bemidji area.

Bemidji City Councilor Hellquist, a member of the interviewing committee, has reviewed both proposals.

He said he does have an initial preference between Global Spectrum and VenuWorks, but declined to say which one, opting instead to wait for the GM interviews.

"That's where the arena manager will come into play," he said.

The council in February voted to pursue a management firm rather than hiring its own manager. At the time, Hellquist made the motion, but he also reserved the council's right to deny the firms' proposals if they were deemed too costly.

Now, Hellquist said he doesn't know if that will be an option the council will consider.

"It's a little more money than I anticipated ... for the first year," he said. "But I can see the logic."

The costs required now for startup, Hellquist said, are the difference between marketing and promotion. Marketing would involve the creation of a brand, a self-identity, he said. Promotion would involve getting people to have their events here.

City Councilor Ron Johnson is not on the committee interviewing the management firms, but he did sit in on the interviews as an observer. He said he was impressed with both Global Spectrum and VenuWorks.

"I don't think we can go wrong working with either one," he said.

Comparing the two proposals is difficult, he said, but Johnson was impressed with their anticipated operating numbers.

"They were pretty encouraging numbers," he said.

Visually, the BREC building is becoming more tangible.

In addition to the continuing construction, details of its appearance are more clear.

Johnson, who also serves on the Design Review Committee, said his subcommittee has narrowed down the choices for seating inside the facility.

Companies will be invited to bid now on their packages for seating made custom for general admission, suite boxes and club seating.

The committee also was on site to view a collection of the actual construction materials planned for the outside of the BREC.

"You can look at the bricks and look at the virtual tour and you can now see how it is all going to look together," Johnson said. "It's exciting."

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