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Sanford Center 'proud' of meeting 2011 goals, promises


In its first full year of operation, Bemidji's Sanford Center bottom line did better than most people expected.

The event center lost $378,315.20 in 2011 before accounting for the city's $417,138 subsidy.

Changes in the final three months of 2011 helped offset losses, prompting Sanford Center officials to announce Wednesday that the facility ended the year $38,822 below its approved operating budget.

"I think the facility did as well as could be anticipated in its first year," City Manager John Chattin said. "I don't think we will ever get to the point where we break even."

A news release said the facility was "proud" to make the announcement. The release also said the center's "foundation has been formed for economic growth, fiscal responsibility, and an overall increased quality of life for all residents."

In the fourth quarter, comprising of October, November and December, the Sanford Center "sharply reduced operating expenditures and dramatically increased advertising sales and overall revenues," the release said.

"There is no greater success than accomplishing goals, keeping promises, and setting the foundation for future stability and prosperity," Executive Director Roger Swanson said in the release.

VenuWorks, which manages the facility for the city, refunded $217,517 to the city last month.

"They have bragging rights to the extent they performed to the level they said they would," Chattin said.

A document prepared by Conventions Sports and Leisure, a firm hired by the city in advance of the building's construction to develop a financial operating analysis, projected the Sanford Center would lose between $312,000 to $766,000 per year based on 2008 dollars.

"The findings ... are based on analysis of present and near-term conditions in the Bemidji area as well as existing interest levels by anew center's potential base of users," the CSL analysis reads. "The estimated results are based on competent and efficient management of the potential facility and assume that no significant changes in the convention and spectator event markets or related markets will occur" beyond those spelled out in the 16-page report.

Chattin said while the event center lost money, it was projected to be worse before Swanson took over last fall.

In addition, event attendance at the Sanford Center has been strong and a relatively mild winter has cut down on snowplowing expenses.

"We knew from the get go that it was going to operate at a loss," said Chattin, adding officials expect the economic stimulus and property taxes generated from nearby properties would cover the losses.

In 2011, there were 133,278 attendees at 306 event days in the Sanford Center, which employed 14 full-time employees and 200 part-time workers. The Sanford Center said its 2011 economic impact report shows an $18.1 million-impact on the local community generated by event activity at the facility.

"Did they have a successful year? Yes. Did they have some great events? Yes. Do they still need a subsidy? Yes," Chattin said.

"The reality is, are they doing better or worse than originally anticipated? I think the answer is yes" they are doing better.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104