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Lehmann confident events center will be built

Mayor Richard Lehmann truly believes there will be an events center in Bemidji five years from now.

"The city is poised for it," he said.

But, whether Bemidji State University hockey will be a partner is not yet known.

"My hope is that we can still work with BSU," Lehmann said. "We're still more than willing to be a partner on this."

A meeting is planned on Monday at BSU as the athletic department and administration as they begin discussions about what happens next for the BSU hockey, according to Bill Maki, BSU's vice president for finance and administration.

"We will be having meetings to deliberate on what our next steps are," Maki said, adding that he could not immediately speculate on whether the university was receptive to partner with the city on a scaled down facility. "It's too early to make a judgment."

BSU President Jon Quistgaard on Thursday said he still plans to make a presentation to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and ask that the men's team be admitted into the conference, and some City Council members think a facility could be constructed that would be able to meet WCHA requirements.

But, an agreement would need to be signed by both the city and BSU stating their intention to partner on the project, if they still wish to receive state bonding.

"Until the university is willing to commit ... the chances of this project getting bonding support is very unlikely," Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said Friday.

The City Council on Thursday voted 6-1 in favor of a $50 million facility that would not house BSU hockey, but could host its hockey games.

"What matters now is really whether Bemidji State University really wants to be a part of it," Lehmann said.

The city could opt to have an events center constructed that would contain ice and the ability to host hockey games - or it could have a building without any ice at all, City Manager John Chattin said.

A council work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday during which designers and consultants will weigh in on the issue and ask the council to define what it wants built, Chattin said.

"We need to come up with what the vision is," Chattin said.

Councilors Ron Johnson and Jerry Downs still envision an events center and a successful partnership with BSU.

"The partnership is very vital to the success of the project," Downs said.

Johnson pointed out that there are teams that compete in the WCHA that do not practice or "live" in the facilities at which they compete, including Minnesota State University Mankato.

"I think there's still some chances," he said.

Looking back at Thursday's meeting, Johnson said he had considered asking the council to table its action on Thursday until it heard directly from Moe.

"Why should we turn down state money if it's available?" he said.