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Council debates the $50 million cap for events center

Has the $50 million events center cap been lifted?

Councilor Nancy Erickson was surprised on Monday to learn that the city no longer was planning for a $50 million events center.

City Manager John Chattin said the cap was lifted following a January meeting with Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard.

"We don't have a $50 million project," Chattin said.

Looking back, at the Jan. 10 work session, the council approved two motions. First, the council voted 5-1 to approve a memorandum of understanding that committed BSU to being the anchor tenant of the facility (Councilor Roger Hellquist was opposed and Councilor Jerry Downs did not attend the meeting). Additionally, the council voted unanimously for a funding plan in which the city would request an additional $25 million in bonding from the Legislature and to seek a 30-year extension of the half-cent sales tax.

Prior to the vote that night, Cliff Tweedale from the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, explained to the council that the total cost for the events center would be about $67 million.

Upon leaving Monday night's council meeting, Erickson reviewed the minutes from the Jan. 10 work session.

She maintained on Tuesday that the City Council still has not voted to lift the $50 million cap.

"There was preliminary discussion about how you can't do the project for $50 million," she said.

But no action to lift the cap was ever taken, she stressed.

"Until it's in black and white, in my opinion, it did not happen," Erickson said.

The $50 million cap was put in place June 4 when the City Council voted 6-1 in favor of a $50 million facility with one-half funding to come from the state bonding. (Councilor Barb Meuers cast the dissenting vote saying she would not support a project costing more than $35 million.)

So who's right?

City Attorney Al Felix on Tuesday said basically both Chattin and Erickson are right.

The City Council "agreed to disagree" on the total cost of the facility as some members believed a 30-year sales tax would generate more than $25 million.

While the council did not agree on the total that would be generated from the sales tax, it did agree that the city should ask the Legislature to approve a 30-year extension of the tax, Felix said.

"Essentially, they agreed to disagree and nonetheless agreed to ask to extend the sales tax for 30 years," he said.

Felix said the council has yet to face the $50 million cap directly.

"I don't think it has ever been put to the council again," he said "They've talked around it and discussed it."

Erickson said Tuesday she plans to directly address the cap during the council's Monday work session.

She said she does not ever want to be seen as supporting an events center exceeding the $50 million cap.

Design team change

Manos Ginis, an architect with Leo A. Daly, is no longer going to be working with the city of Bemidji on the exterior design of the events center, Chattin confirmed Monday night.

Ginis is still a part of the design team, Chattin explained, but another architect will take the lead on the design of the exterior of the building.