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Legislators pledge support for events center funding

Without the governor's support, the road to legislative bonding for the proposed events center is going to be more difficult, an area legislator said Tuesday.

The proposed Bemidji events center was not included in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's capital projects bonding proposal, which was released Monday.

"I'm sure it's very difficult for the people who have been working very long and hard on this project and have seen it through its ups and downs," said Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

Bemidji has requested $25 million in bonding from the Legislature for an events center that would house Bemidji State University hockey as the anchor tenant. The remaining funding would come from a 30-year extension of the city's half-cent sales tax, if approved by the Legislature.

Olson said last week that inclusion of the events center in the governor's bonding proposal would be a key step toward securing legislative bonding dollars for the project.

But, since Pawlenty is not proposing state money for the events center, the process changes a bit, she explained. The events center will now become part of a bargaining process with the governor as the Legislature moves forward in its efforts to pass a bonding bill.

"The process has now been made that much more difficult," Olson said.

Olson and Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, both pledged to continue to do their best to advance the events center project through the Legislature.

Moe issued a statement Monday in which he promised to "continue to push for the inclusion of the events center in the House and Senate bonding proposals."

"It's important to remember that the governor's proposal is just a starting point," he said in the statement.

Moe said he was "puzzled" by Pawlenty's decision to leave the events center out of the bonding proposal.

"He's said in the past that he supports it and we've already invested $3 million in the project," Moe said. "I would hate to see that investment go to waste. This is an important project for the economy of (the) region, both in terms of the jobs it will create and the dollars it will bring to the area."

Sen. Keith Langseth, the Senate chair of the Senate Capitol Investment Committee, was quoted in a Monday article by Forum Communications Company saying that local projects, including events or conventions centers, would probably not be included in the bonding bill this year due to the number of state needs.

Olson said legislators knew it was going to be a tight bonding year and had previously discussed focusing on projects that would place an emphasis on economic development.

"Legislators from around the state are going to all have projects ... they individually feel are important in their communities," she said.

Olson also stressed that the city of Bemidji has requested $25 million, a figure the city developed. The Legislature has never indicated that Bemidji would, for certain, receive funds totaling that amount, she explained.

The city could receive the entirety of its request, some of it or none, she said last week.

"The Legislature doesn't make this kind of decision in a vacuum," Olson said. "It's a partnership between the Legislature and the governor."