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Sanford Center; VenuWorks whittles candidate field to finalists

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By Steve Wagner

BEMIDJI – A new executive director for the city-owned Sanford Center could be in place by this time next month.

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Andy Long, regional vice president for VenuWorks and interim operations manager until a replacement is hired, said Monday the search has been narrowed to four candidates.

He said the VenuWorks, which manages the facility for the city, received about 10 qualified applicants.

Long said he had interviewed all but one person on the company’s short list as of Monday morning, when he chaired the monthly Sanford Center Advisory Board meeting.

“We’re trying to find a good fit and match for us,” Long said.

VenuWorks’ plan is to pick the best person and present the candidate to the Bemidji City Council, which has final say on who serves as general manager.

The process is different from the initial search.

Bob LeBarron was selected after three candidates interviewed for the job. He resigned last October and Roger Swanson, a longtime VenuWorks’ employee, served as interim executive director before assuming the role permanently Jan. 1.

VenuWorks fired Swanson for personnel reasons Aug. 8.

Previously, Long said he hoped to have an executive director in place by Oct. 1. He said Monday that the timeline has been pushed back a few weeks as the search process takes time.

At least a few people still in the running for the position, which will pay between $75,000 and $100,000 annually, are from outside VenuWorks. One candidate works at the Sanford Center.

“We need someone who can book” shows and events, said Long, who added the company wants to hire someone who can build on the continuity and momentum at the event and conference center.

Still, Long said bringing in someone from outside VenuWorks offers benefits since the person would bring in “fresh eyes, contacts, ways of doing things.”

City Manager John Chattin said he would like the prospective executive director meet with the advisory board before an offer is extended.

That would likely require a special meeting for the board, which meets the third Monday of every month, if VenuWorks wants to keep on its timeline to fill the position.

Advisory board members were under the impression that they’d meet finalists for the job, Chattin said.

“It’s your hire, we just have veto power,” he said of the city.

City Councilor Ron Johnson said he’d like the next executive director to live in Bemidji, which wasn’t the case with Swanson.

“It’s our intention the person lives in town,” Long said.

Last month, advisory board members said they were confident with current staff handling day-to-day operations of the Sanford Center, and would like VenuWorks to put its emphasis on booking more shows at the facility.

Show emphasis

Several shows are in the works for the Sanford Center. The following events are planned and details for most will be available in the next few weeks:

-- The sixth annual Pioneer Women’s Expo is Saturday

-- Shows for Sesame Street Live “Elmo’s Super Heroes” will be Oct. 5-6

-- The Apples and Acorns Fall Craft Show is Oct. 13

-- Tickets will be available Sept. 25 for the U.S. Army Field Band concert, scheduled for Oct. 25

-- 80s rock tribute band Hairball will play Oct. 26

-- The third annual Arts Opener Festival is slated for Nov. 3

-- TNA Wrestling and the Harlem Globetrotters both are signed for performances. Dates have not been made public.

Hotel holdup

Lack of construction progress for a hotel adjoining the Sanford Center has meant at least one conference bypassing Bemidji next year.

Bemidji was in the running for the 2013 Minnesota Jaycees All State Convention.

However, Country Inn and Suites has not closed on purchase of land next to the facility.

The uncertainty of the hotel being ready by the start of next year’s convention prompted organizers to look elsewhere, said Georgette Bloom, convention sales manager for the Sanford Center.

Chattin said the city expected the deal to close last week.

“Our biggest concern isn’t that it’s not going to get built… it’s when is it going to get built,” he said.

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Steve Wagner
Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and swagner@gfherald.com. He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several newsroom roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and cops/court reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes extensive reporting related to Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with projects about immigration, the fatal 2002 train derailment in Minot, N.D., and the 20th anniversary of Gordon Kahl's massacre of U.S. marshals. Wagner also worked as a reporter at newspapers in the Twin Cities and Iowa. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.
(701) 780-1104
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