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.
The board 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.
The emotional issue came up during today's advisory board meeting as Char Blashill, the Jaycees' chairwoman for the show, asked for a compromise.
Previously, 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.
However, Stittsworth Meats of Bemidji balked at the policy. Mychal 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 while grandfathering in the show's vendors.
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 2012 show. It also aims to negotiate a higher commission on an escalating scale through a five-year contract to reach the 35 percent margin.
The Jaycees and the Sanford Center do not have a signed agreement for this year's show.
After the meeting, Stittsworth said he wasn't sure he would accept the terms of the proposal and he wanted to discuss it with other show vendors before making a decision. Stittsworth would be the only Bemidji vendor, although there are other regional vendors.
"I think it's fair if we talk it over with all the other vendors," he said.
Read more in Wednesday's Pioneer.