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No meeting yet scheduled with BSU on events center

Nancy Erickson's patience is running out.

"I'm losing my zest here," City Councilor Erickson said during Monday's meeting.

The Bemidji City Council for weeks has been told to expect, at the least, a statement from Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard regarding BSU's intentions concerning the proposed Bemidji events center before legislators visit the city to consider its bonding request.

Members of the Capital Investment Finance committee in the House of Representatives arrive this afternoon to hear Bemidji's proposal and tour the site of the proposed facility.

And Quistgaard has yet to tell the City Council what he is thinking.

The council has voted in support of a $50 million events center/arena that would house BSU hockey. One-half of the funding for the project would come from the half-cent sales tax. If approved by the Legislature, the remaining $25 million would come from the state.

Cliff Tweedale, the executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, acknowledged that he too was disappointed that BSU's intentions are still not known.

Tweedale told the council he is working to schedule a meeting between the City Council and Quistgaard as soon as possible.

"Would I have liked to have done this three weeks ago? You bet," he said.

During the Sept. 4 City Council meeting, the HRDC's Dave Hengel said he has made it "increasingly clear" to Quistgaard that the city cannot go into the visits, scheduled for today and Sept. 25, without knowing where the university stands. Hengel then said that he had expected BSU to make a statement before today regarding its intentions.

But that still has not happened.

Erickson said on Monday that the council has been asking for a meeting with Quistgaard or BSU for a "long time."

"This is not a new request," she said.

Without an idea as to what BSU is thinking, "We are walking in the dark," she said.

Everyone sets priorities, and Erickson hopes that the events center is as high on Quistgaard's priority list as it is on the City Council's, she said.

A goal had been set to have a meeting with BSU before the legislative visits.

"We didn't meet that goal," Erickson said. "I'm losing my zest here because I don't think the city should have to continue to carry this ball."

"I hear you; I agree," Tweedale said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the city needs to have an agreement with BSU at the least before the city "goes down to St. Paul" during next year's Legislative session.

"I think it's time we get on track with Bemidji State and get a commitment," he said.

The council's agenda for Monday indicated that it would consider naming a committee that would meet with BSU on negotiations regarding a possible lease.

Tweedale backed off that plan on Monday, explaining that Councilor Barb Meuers had voiced some "strong feelings" against the plan.

Instead, he plans to arrange a work session meeting with Quistgaard, he said. If, further down the road, a negotiations committee is deemed necessary, the council could consider creating one, he said.

Tweedale advocated for meeting with Quistgaard at the "earliest possible date" and initially said he would get Quistgaard to meet with the council on his first available second or fourth Monday, which are generally reserved for council work sessions.

Later, however, Councilor Ron Johnson suggested that the council meet with Quistgaard whenever his schedule was open. Other councilors agreed.

"That helps," Tweedale said.

Councilor Jerry Downs asked if the meeting would include a representative from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

MnSCU is BSU's "parent company" and would have to sign off on any lease with BSU, he said.

"The buck stops there," Downs said.

Tweedale said he understood that MnSCU would have to also approve any lease agreement, but whether MnSCU should be involved would be up to Quistgaard.

The City Council must have three days' notice to hold a public meeting to fulfill its notice requirements.