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Talks between BSU, city about events center continuing

Bemidji State University and the city of Bemidji are still negotiating an agreement in which the university would serve as the anchor tenant of the events center, Mayor Richard Lehmann said Monday.

"They are working with us," he said.

Lehmann's comments were made during a special Bemidji City Council work session that unveiled preliminary design plans of a multiuse events center for downtown Bemidji.

He was responding to a comment from Bemidji resident Lisa Boulay, who challenged BSU officials in attendance to "show us you're committed."

While the City Council previously voiced support for having a facility with three components -- an events center/arena, a second sheet of ice and a convention center -- the City Council now is supporting a $50 million facility, which would provide for an events center that also would house BSU hockey.

To date, BSU has not signed a lease, but that does not mean university officials are not working with the city, Lehmann said.

"They have committed verbally - we just haven't gotten it reduced to writing," he said.

Critics of the plan argue that the facility would just be a hockey arena. But, the events center is planned to host other events. It is just not yet known which events or how many.

If constructed, the facility would be a bowl-shaped arena with the hockey rink on the ground floor surrounded on all sides with seats sloping upward.

Manos Ginis, the principal director of design at Leo A. Daly, the Minneapolis firm leading the events center project design, presented the preliminary designs Monday. He said the facility would have removable seats on the south end. Once the seats are removed, the arena could hold a stage or platform for concerts or graduations. Also, the surface of the ice would be covered, he said.

A similar format is used in Mankato. At the Alltel Center (formerly the Midwest Wireless Civic Center), the facility can be changed over from a hockey arena to an events center or concert venue "in literally hours," Ginis said.

Lehmann said the Mankato facility can host a hockey game in the morning and a basketball game in the evening.

The City Council has not yet dictated which events it is interested in hosting, although concerts, graduations, trade shows and youth sports tournaments have been mentioned as possibilities.

Ginis said specific events will need to be considered at some point, as different surfaces would be needed for basketball games versus a trade show. Additionally, he would need to design storage facilities for such surfaces, he said.

While the second sheet of ice is not now being considered due to cost restrictions, the City Council discussed the need for having two different sizes of ice surfaces for BSU hockey.

The programs now practice at John S. Glas Fieldhouse on the BSU campus. The ice in the current arena is the size an NHL rink, which is 85 feet by 200 feet. However, many -- but not all -- teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association play on Olympic-sized ice, which is 100 feet by 200 feet.

Since the university hopes to get its men's hockey program into the WCHA, BSU Athletic Director Rick Goeb said it would benefit the program to have two sheets of ice, one NHL-sized and one Olympic-sized.

It will be disadvantageous for the hockey teams to practice on ice that is one size and then compete against teams on a different size of ice, he said.

"It does make a difference," he said.

City Councilor Nancy Erickson asked Goeb if it would be possible to build an Olympic-sized sheet of ice in the events center and have the programs continue to use the John Glas Fieldhouse for NHL-sized practices and games.

"I'm trying to find more times for events," she said.

While he could not speak for the president of BSU, Goeb said it would not likely be financially feasible for the university to continue to operate the John Glas Fieldhouse as well as take out a lease that would have the hockey programs also utilizing the ice in the events center.

"I think it would be very difficult to have a lease and operate another rink," he said.