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BSU ponders options for hockey program

Bemidji State University is continuing to explore its options.

Representatives from BSU hockey, the athletic department, BSU Foundation and university administration met for nine hours Monday as the group began to consider its options for the future, said Andrew Bartlett, the associate director of communications and marketing at BSU, on Tuesday.

Monday's meeting was just the beginning as the group continue meeting on Tuesday, Bartlett said.

Officials are considering all their options and are paying particular attention to the financial viability of their options, Bartlett said.

The Bemidji City Council last Thursday voted to move forward with a $50 million events center that could possibly host BSU hockey games, but would not serve as a home facility for hockey practices and offices.

City Manager John Chattin said Tuesday that the city has not had any recent contact with BSU and was unaware of what, if any, effect the university's meetings might have on the proposed events center.

The details of what actually will be included in the $50 million events center are not yet known. The City Council is scheduled to meet in a work session at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with its consultants as it begins to determine what features could still be incorporated into the building.

The city had previously been discussing an events center facility that would contain an events center/hockey arena that would house offices and training facilities for BSU hockey, a second sheet of ice that could double as addition events center space, and a convention center.

The cost to build all three pieces, however, was well over $50 million. To develop the entire 130 acres along Lake Bemidji's south shore, which is where the events center has been proposed to be located, recently was estimated at nearly $100 million, which includes building and land costs and site improvements, according to information from the project team. The construction costs for just the three buildings - events center, second sheet of ice and convention center - was estimated at $75.5 million.

City and BSU representatives had been meeting in negotiations on a potential framework for a lease agreement and had developed a memorandum of understanding that, to date, remains unsigned.

The City Council last week rejected BSU President Jon Quistgaard's request for a time extension, until next week, to commit to the project by signing the memorandum. Quistgaard had said he didn't feel confident that he could commit to the project without having a home conference for men's hockey, and he is making a presentation to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association board on Jan. 13. Following that meeting, he said he would be able to give a more definitive answer about the university's intentions on the events center.

The City Council denied the request, saying that the city must approach Legislature with a firm plan, but also left open the possibility of partnering with BSU for hosting its hockey games.

The city also had issues with the proposed memorandum of understanding, and Chattin had questioned whether the document legally bound the university to anything other than furthering negotiations on a potential lease.

The document reads, in part, as follows:

"The University commits to being the anchor tenant of the facility mentioned above by continuing to negotiate in good faith with the City and seeking the execution of a lease to be the anchor tenant of the Events Center, subject to the City's receipt of legislative funding and a final lease agreement being approved by the Board of Trustees and the City Council."

Bartlett stressed on Tuesday that BSU's legal advisers, who work for the Minnesota State College and Universities system, consider the memorandum a legal, binding document.

Chattin said Tuesday that he and City Attorney Al Felix still share the opinion that the proposed language would not have committed BSU to the project.