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Booking the BREC: Interest building as event center opening draws near

A glimpse of the BREC construction from the loading zone area of the building shows workers putting the final touches on the hockey rink flooring before concrete is poured. (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)1 / 4
With the majority of the exterior complete, the concentration for construction at the Bemidji Regional Event Center is on the inside of the facility until consistent outdoor temperatures arrive. The BREC is set to open Oct. 15 with two Bemidji State University hockey games. (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)2 / 4
The lower-level concourse at the Bemidji Regional Event Center now features half-arched columns that line the banks of windows along the south side of the building. (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)3 / 4
The home locker room for the Bemidji State University men's hockey team features green lockers. The Beavers will be the anchor tenant of the event center. (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)4 / 4

About twice a day, Bob LeBarron gets a phone call from an excited, expectant bride.

All are interested in learning more about the Bemidji Regional Event Center and booking the facility for their upcoming weddings.

Add the brides-to-be into the mix of people wanting to book the BREC for upcoming events and conventions. While LeBarron, the executive director of the BREC, won't talk specifically about events that have been or might be booked - a schedule will likely be announced this summer - he will confirm that a lot of people are talking about the facility.

"We've had a lot of interest," he said.

The BREC, which will open in October, will have an event center/sports arena component; 10,000 square feet of convention space in the main ballroom; and four breakout conference rooms, which combine for a total of 6,000 additional square feet.

The facility is situated along Lake Bemidji in the 140-acre south shore redevelopment area, which is planned to feature a mix of commercial and residential development.

LeBarron, who is employed by VenuWorks, the firm hired to manage the BREC, said the interest in the event center/arena portion of the complex has exceeded expectations.

The event center will likely host popular local events, such as the Bemidji Women's Expo, which is expected to move to the BREC in 2011.

He noted that family shows tend to run in two-year cycles, meaning that once every two years, they will stop in Fargo, N.D., or Duluth.

The BREC will have to work into that rotation, he said.

"Eventually, you will see almost every family show that is out there coming here," he said.

Concerts, too, are planned to be at the BREC. He said some acts have been confirmed and others have placed tentative holds on dates.

"I think we're doing very well," he said.

As for the convention center portion of the facility, LeBarron said, he has bid and is planning to bid on several state conventions.

Some of the response to the bids, though, he acknowledged, is "wait 'til next year," when the facility will be complete.

Also, there has been a desire to wait until an on-site hotel is developed.

City Manager John Chattin said Monday city staff continues to work with a hotel development group that has interest in building a hotel connected to the BREC.

"They still are feeling very positive," Chattin said.

They stay in contact on a weekly basis and have met with city staff on a couple of occasions to discuss a potential partnership.

LeBarron said the hotel will help the BREC land larger statewide conventions.

"It's very important for them to have (a hotel) on site," he said.

Some of the best marketing, LeBarron said, has been done by local residents who attend statewide conventions for work or service organizations.

"Things are going well," LeBarron said. "I'm encouraged by the support we've gotten from our local business community."

A fee schedule has not been adopted yet, but LeBarron said a draft has been developed. One of the difficulties in adopting fees is the struggle over whether the facility should charge a for-profit event, such a concert, more than it would a nonprofit venture.

To develop a fee schedule, LeBarron said, he considered the rates of other event centers in the greater region.

"We need to be competitive with Duluth and Grand Forks," he said.

LeBarron also plans to compete for regional sports tournaments, such as post-season tournaments sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League.

"Would we like to do that? Absolutely," LeBarron said. "That is where the 'regional' part of Bemidji Regional Event Center comes into play."

He noted that, in the past, if the Bemidji boys hockey team made it to post-season play, they could end up playing in St. Cloud or Alexandria, even if they were the favored team.

"That's not really a home game for them," LeBarron said. "It would be nice for them to have a home game at home."

He also discussed the possibility of hosting other sports events, such as the junior national curling championships or Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournaments.

BREC progress

LeBarron has weekly construction meetings at the BREC site and also has been leading group tours two or three times a week.

Warmer temperatures have allowed crews to begin working outside earlier than expected.

"They're starting to do a lot of outside work now," he said.

Outside work also includes the curb and gutter work for the parking lots and areas less associated with the BREC and more associated with the south shore development.

While some development plans for the south shore have been finalized - for instance, a Doubletree Hotel is planned to connect to the Green Mill - a lot of the land remains to be sold.

LeBarron said that as the south shore develops, it will highlight the BREC and draw attention to it as a destination location.

"It could really, truly become an entertainment district," he said, adding that it could help attract larger conventions and trade shows.

Inside the BREC, walls are not only up, but are getting painted and the concourse has taken shape. All the piping has been installed for the floor of the arena and concrete is expected to be poured next week.

"It's getting to be less of a construction zone," LeBarron said. "The lines on the paper indicating walls are actual walls, and where you envisioned a staircase actually has stairs."

As the building's status moves further from groundbreaking and inches toward completion, LeBarron has turned his attention to staffing and booking events.

He said between 12 and 15 full-time employees will be required. He recently hired Dave Beaupre as the director of sales and marketing and now has been looking for a finance person, an executive chef and a food and beverage manager.

A job fair for part-time employees - such as ticket sellers, ushers or waiting staff - will likely be held in late June or early July.

The first official "event" to be featured at the BREC will be Bemidji State University hockey, which is the anchor tenant of the facility, on Oct. 15. The women will officially open the facility at 2 p.m. against Mercyhurst, while the men will take the ice at 7:37 p.m. against North Dakota.

But prior to that, LeBarron said, the public will be invited to see the BREC.

Details have not yet been set, but LeBarron said possibilities include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a media day, a reception for suite holders and a yet-to-be-decided public event.

"We're working on a full week of opening events," he said.