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Plans unveiled for south shore, events center

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The site plan for the south shore of Lake Bemidji certainly has Bemidji's "city as a park" theme in mind.

Of the 130 acres planned to be purchased in the area, parkland is now proposed to cover about one-third of the land.

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The design team hired to develop plans for the proposed events center unveiled site plans on Tuesday during a City Council work session at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

Manus Ginis, the principal director of design with Leo A. Daly, and Paul Richards, who works with Widseth Smith Nolting, presented plans to the council - but cautioned that they are preliminary and could change.

The eastern portion of the property was presented as wooded parkland. The eastern half of the shoreline is proposed to remain untouched, and the western portion of the shoreline will be reserved as a setback. The entire shoreline is proposed to be bordered by a hiking/biking trail and a snowmobile trail. Also, improvements were discussed for Nymore Beach and the boat landing, and man-made wetlands proposed for the southwest corner of the property were presented with parkland buffer.

In all, Richards estimated that parkland covered one-third of the 130 acres, although exact figures are not yet known.

The events center is proposed to be located in the center of the property on the northern portion of the former North Central Door site.

Discussion during the meeting centered on the events center, which was pictured with all three components: the main events center/hockey arena, second sheet of ice and convention center.

However, the second sheet of ice was announced to have taken on new significance.

The second sheet of ice has been proposed to be located parallel to Lake Bemidji, with its north side constructed with doors that would open outward toward the lake. It also could become a second events center, Ginis explained, so two events could be held simultaneously on both ice surfaces (which would be covered).

"It became much bigger than a second sheet of ice and has taken on more function than that," Ginis said.

The events center/hockey arena is proposed to be located perpendicular to the lake and is positioned further south on the property. Once inside for a hockey game or convention, the view of the lake is not necessary, Ginis explained.

The convention center connects the two sheets of ice and juts out to the west. To the east of the convention center are accompanying components such as the kitchen, which can now serve all three facilities more easily, Ginis explained.

Ginis praised the council's decision to relocate the events center on the south shore and said the land offered the design team more flexibility regarding room.

"It was a very great move," he said.

All three phases?

The City Council voted previously to cap the cost of the project at $50 million. One-half of the funding would come from an extension of the city's half-cent sales tax, if approved by the Legislature, and the remaining funds would come from the legislative bonding, if approved by the Legislature.

But those funds may not be enough to construct the entire facility.

Mike Warren, with the design team, presented the projected costs for the buildings alone - the costs do not include land acquisition, demolition or other associated costs.

The building costs were independently reviewed by two companies - Kraus-Anderson and CPMI - and averaged. The costs were calculated in 2007 dollars and then adjusted for inflation out to 2009, Warren explained.

He reported the following:

E the events center/hockey arena would cost $32.17 million in 2007 (and $36.5 million in 2009)

E the second sheet of ice would cost $8.47 million ($9.6 million)

E the convention center would cost $7.19 million ($8.2 million)

E foundation and soil correction would cost $1 million ($1.1 million)

E which results in a total of $48.83 million ($55.4 million)

Ginis explained that the new site offers several advantages versus the downtown railroad location, but the soil is worse.

Also, there could be additional costs for environmental cleanup and other needed activities, but they will be included in a final cost estimate to be presents later, he said.

"We literally just started looking at this site," Ginis said.

He said the design team could offer some opinions and guesses, but he would prefer to wait for facts.

"When we speculate, it's not a good thing," he said.

Possible savings?

Ginis presented several options for removal from the plans that could save anywhere between $4.5 and $6 million - however, he cautioned that those decision have tradeoffs.

The design team met Nov. 6 with Bill Krueger, a consultant from Conventions, Sports & Leisure, and representatives from Bemidji State University, city staff and the Headwaters Regional Development Commission.

The group discussed the advantages and disadvantages to taking the following action:

E reduce the amount of steel from the roof, saving about $360,000 (removing the "extra" steel would limit the ability to support ceiling-hung equipment such as banners and light fixtures)

E reduce the height of the arena by 15 feet, saving $270,000 (the height was originally proposed to be 50 feet)

E make the arena two levels instead of three, saving $3.2 million (this also would result in a smaller clubhouse and reduce the number of suites from 25 to 15)

E remove retractable seating and replace it with concrete riser and fixed chairback seats, saving $143,000 (the arena has been proposed to have one section of permanent seating and a lower section of retractable seating that could be removed to better host a tradeshow or another events that needed a larger floor space)

E delete some BSU programmed spaces from the ice level such as strength-training rooms and offices, saving $480,000 to $1.2 million (Ginis estimated that this would save closer to $480,000 since the new location does not need excavating - the space already will be created by the bowl-shaped arena)

E use less expensive materials and limit glass on the exterior, saving $100,000 to $800,000 (materials are proposed to consist of brick, metal paneling and glass)

The design team, BSU representatives and Krueger recommended against the proposals.

"What you end up with is an entirely different animal," Ginis said.

According to a report on the proposals, BSU Athletic Director Rick Goeb said making some of the changes - such as limiting the number of suites - would go against requirements for the hockey program.

Krueger said Tuesday that the success of such facilities depends on their versatility.

"It does get down to the question of, 'For each of these, what are you going to lose?'" he said.

Council debates

Councilor Nancy Erickson was adamant that the cost of the project should not eclipse $50 million.

The city needs to be able to repay the bonds needed for the project from the sales tax, she said, so the total cost should not be allowed to pass $50 million. She referenced a CSL report in which similar projects were said to have been done in phases in other cities that planned for the future.

Ginis replied that the design team understood the limit voted on by the council.

But, the new site is "much different than downtown," he said.

Downtown, it was more acceptable to complete the project in phases, he explained, because the downtown is a permanent, viable portion of the city.

The south shore has not yet been developed - and developers will want to "see something more of a permanent commitment" in the area," he said.

It's like selling a car, he said. You could pay $200 to detail the vehicle and get $500 or $600 more back through its sale.

Erickson countered that it's more like buying a car - she may want to drive a Lexus, but just can't afford one.

"We have an obligation to the taxpayers," she said. "We need to prioritize."

A potential partnership with a hotel could help fund the construction and operation of a convention center, but the city would likely need to commit to the entire project to attract a hotel developer, Ginis said.

Councilor Ron Johnson said he would be in favor of completing the entire project if it meant protecting and increasing potential revenue.

"I don't want to cut corners," he said.

Councilor Jerry Downs said he, too, was not in favor of cutting corners, but would be interested to see what kind of partnership is available with a hotel developer.

BSU negotiations

HRDC Executive Director Cliff Tweedale offered an update on the status of negotiations with BSU.

The committee has had three "good meetings" and a fourth is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Tweedale said he expects the group to soon reach an agreement in December - and said one thing has become clear during negotiations:

"If this doesn't work for both groups, this doesn't work for either group."

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