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Council votes to delay consideration of second study on events center

Voting unanimously to postpone consideration of a second feasibility study on the proposed regional events center, the Bemidji City Council on Monday said it needed answers to questions that councilors have been asking for some time.

Mainly, what would Bemidji State University's role be in the proposed facility?

Until the council better understands what a partnership would entail, members were unwilling to approve a second study.

"We need to take this one step at a time," said Councilor Barb Meuers.

City Manager John Chattin said the design team currently is planning the facility to meet the minimum requirements that BSU requested be met in order for the university to be the anchor tenant of the facility.

It previously had been discussed that BSU hockey would practice and play games in the events center.

But Councilor Ron Johnson said if BSU hockey continued to practice at its current facility, the John S. Glas Fieldhouse, that could possibly free up more space for convention-type events.

Just because BSU hockey is planned to be the anchor tenant "doesn't mean they have to practice there," he said.

Johnson said the plan has been scaled back - it no longer includes a second sheet of practice ice or a convention center - and no one is getting everything he or she wants.

He said the council needs a "project manager."

Councilors previously voted to consider retaining Headwaters Regional Development Commission to work as a project facilitator on the events center.

But just what facilitating the project means is yet to be determined.

Councilor Nancy Erickson objected to having the HRDC "steer" the project, saying she instead supported having the HRDC facilitate discussions and negotiations between the city and BSU.

A work session was set for 5:15 p.m. July 10 with HRDC representatives to discuss a potential agreement.

While discussing the possibility of retaining Wayzata-based Conventions, Sports and Leisure International to conduct another study on the proposed events center, Mayor Richard Lehmann said the council needs to figure out what exactly it wants built.

"What is the basic building going to look like?" he said.

Without an agreement with BSU, he said that remains to be seen.

Chattin said the cost of conducting a second study is expected to be in the $25,000 to $35,000 range.

A bulk of the work in the first study was contacting convention organizers and people who plan such events and asking them if they would consider holding events in Bemidji. The CSL study, however, considered the full proposal with all three components.

Since that plan has since been scaled back, Chattin said that CSL would have to redo the survey.

"They all would have to re-contacted," he said.

The City Council understood that, but decided that it needed more answers from BSU before considering a second study.

Lehmann said the council seemed to be moving too quickly. He asked what the building would look like, what it would actually be able to support in terms of BSU hockey and events center, or convention center, space.

"It seems to me there are a lot of unanswered questions," he said.

Chattin said the council does have some time constraints to consider. For example, if councilors voted to hire CSL to do a second study, they wouldn't likely see those results until September or October.

The design team, he said, also is preparing schematic designs that would include the possibility of the full three-tiered project with the possibility that a second sheet of ice and a convention center could be added later.

If the council decided to renegotiate its contact with the design team, Chattin said, it would want do so soon.

There are "quite a few things that need to be considered soon," Chattin said.

But the council decided to allow the design team to continue moving forward with schematic designs, partly on the advice of City Attorney Alan Felix and City Engineer Brian Freeberg.

Felix said that if the council wanted staff's advice, completing the schematic designs "just made sense" to plan for the future.