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City Council ponders components of events center

Bemidji city councilors on Monday agreed that they just don't yet know what the future of the regional events center will be.

The City Council on Thursday decided to support a $50 million multiuse events center that would house Bemidji State University hockey and about 10,000 square feet of events center space. The facility, if constructed, initially would neither include a convention center nor a second sheet of practice ice.

On Monday, the council was asked to decide whether the design team should plan for the possible addition of a convention center and a practice sheet of ice, one or the other, or no addition at all.

But the council was not prepared to answer.

"I can't move beyond what I've already said without sitting at the table with BSU," said Councilor Barb Meuers.

City Manager John Chattin and Paul Richards, who works with the design team of Widseth Smith Nolting and Leo A. Daly, said these decisions would guide the design process.

"This is to get the design team going in the right direction," Richards said.

If the council only wants the design team to plan for the events center, funds could be redistributed to other parts of the design process.

The council's decision could drive many factors, Richards said.

Without the convention center or the second sheet of ice, the main building could be moved to a different location within the site east of the Irvine Avenue overpass. He said excavating likely would be needed underneath the bridge to make room for a service road. But if the council decided not to plan for a convention center or a second sheet of ice, the events center perhaps could be located further up on the property, potentially saving some costs.

"But that could possibly prevent you from having a convention center (added on) in the future," he said.

If the council does not plan for any additions in the future, the parking lots may later have to be removed to make room for a convention center, or holding ponds may interfere with future add-ons. Utilities may not be placed in the ideal location, as well.

"We want to take all of that into consideration," Richards said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson asked if the design team could plan for an addition not knowing whether it would be a convention center, a second sheet of ice, a hotel or commercial development.

"Land is a precious resource," she said.

"Are there cost factors associated with these decisions? Yes," said Richards, who added that the design firm would like to know what the council's intent would be for the future.

The council wanted more information regarding the financial feasibility of the project. Wayzata-based Conventions, Sports and Leisure International soon will be asked to prepare another feasibility study on the project, but those results were, obviously, unavailable Monday.

Other questions remained as well. Last week the council decided to have the Headwaters Regional Development Commission work as a project facilitator between the city and BSU.

On Monday, councilors said they wanted HRDC's input. But the city and HRDC, Chattin said, still are working out specifics on the agreement.

More than any of the factors, councilors wanted to know how much more it would cost to have the design team plan for one option over another.

Richards said there are "too many variables" to answer specifics about how one decision could affect the bottom line.

Erickson said she would not likely support the additions.

She said the project comes with a $50 million price tag without the additions.

"I don't foresee my supporting a convention center from now until I'm long off this council," she said. "Not because I don't think a convention center and second sheet of ice are important, but because I'm looking at their affordability."

But Councilor Jerry Downs said that planning for the future additions may be a good idea, if the cost is not too high.

"We don't want to make this thing obsolete before it is built," he said.