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City Council, Tweedale discuss potential arrangement to facilitate events center

The Bemidji City Council and Cliff Tweedale, executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, met on Tuesday to discuss the potential of having HRDC take an active role in events center planning.

The council last month asked staff to contact HRDC to see if it would be interested in being the project facilitator for the events center.

Then, it was not entirely clear what the council specifically wanted from HRDC. Did it want someone to just facilitate conversations and negotiations between the city and Bemidji State University? Or did councilors seek someone to lead the entire project?

Tweedale set out to answer these questions during Tuesday's meeting.

He told the council that HRDC is in the business of managing processes. HRDC, he explained, would help the council "broker and champion" a process that would lead a proposal that fits within the council's own parameters and meets the council's objectives.

"The result is up to you," he said,

Councilor Barb Meuers asked who has been managing the project to date. The answer she received was city staff.

Eventually, by the conclusion of the one-hour meeting, councilors agreed that city staff have done a remarkable job to date.

"I do believe the time has come for us to let staff kind of step back," said Mayor Richard Lehmann.

The city has an Event Center Task Force, which also has four subcommittees - facility, finance, neighborhood redevelopment and public input and information.

Meuers asked if those committees would continue to meet if HRDC is retained to help facilitate the project.

City Manager John Chattin said they would, but he thinks the events center needs to enter a new chapter.

The task force, he said, has been operating with the committees and making recommendations to the council.

"It's time to enter a new phase," Chattin said. The committees should "get their direction from the council."

Lehmann said HRDC is familiar with the committees and has worked with them previously.

HRDC, he said, could help the council bring together all of the information and all of the work that has been done to date.

"Now we're at a junction where it is time for us to have those loose ends tied up," he said, adding that HRDC could help the city do that.

A big piece of the puzzle, councilors said, is getting answers from BSU. What are its wants versus its needs in the new facility, and what would a lease agreement look like if BSU hockey were to be the anchor tenant?

By the end of the meeting, councilors agreed that they wanted HRDC's involvement in the project.

"I don't know what the end result with my vote will be," Meuers said. "But I'm glad you'll be there."

In the opening minutes of the meeting, Councilor Ron Johnson said BSU's needs and wants were just one of the many pieces of information that need to be pulled together.

The project, he said, needs someone's "full-time attention."

At the end of the meeting, Johnson said Tweedale's explanation of what HRDC could provide was "right on" with what he was seeking.

Tweedale told the council the HRDC would work on a proposal and provide to staff information regarding a potential cost in time for consideration during the July 16 City Council meeting.

The council now is supporting a $50 million multiuse events center that would feature BSU hockey as its anchor tenant and contain approximately 10,000 square feet of events center space.

The council decided last month against including a convention center and a second sheet of practice ice for BSU hockey in the events center. To include those pieces, the total cost of the project would have likely been at least $60 million.