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Sanford Center: New director looking forward to challenges

BEMIDJI – The hiring of Curtis Webb as the new Sanford Center executive director was years in the making.

Webb, who was named to the top job at the two-year old facility Monday, previously worked for Global Spectrum Facility Management. That company competed for the contract to run the Sanford Center before it opened in 2010.

Webb became familiar with the area and may have become the center’s director had Global Spectrum won the contract. But ultimately VenuWorks won out.

Come Jan. 2, however, VenuWorks will be Webb’s new employer as he leads the Sanford Center.

“Now it’s kind of come to fruition and we’re excited to be moving there,” Webb said by phone Tuesday.

Webb currently is the general manager of Ralston Arena, owned and operated by the city of Ralston, Neb. That arena, which opened last month, is similar in size to the Sanford Center and hosts the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

Over the past year, Webb worked on getting Ralston Arena operational before it opened, he said.

Webb plans on meeting with community members once he arrives in Bemidji to talk about what they want out of the Sanford Center, as well as getting up to speed with staff.

“For the most part it’s getting to those stakeholders in the community,” Webb said.

Webb’s hire comes after Roger Swanson was fired from the post in August. Swanson took over for Bob LeBarron, who resigned in October 2011. The Sanford Center is currently under the direction of David Ross on an interim basis.

Sanford Center Advisory Board members said this week that long-term stability was a factor in hiring Webb.

“I guess what I was looking (for), and I think the rest of the committee too, was somebody who was committed to coming here,” said advisory board member Ron Johnson, Bemidji’s Ward 3 city councilor. “We were certainly looking for somebody who was going to become part of the community.”

Advisory board member and Ward 5 councilor Greg Negard echoed that sentiment.

“He’s willing to go out and … talk to the community,” Negard said, “and that was very impressive.”

Negard added that it was apparent that Webb had done a lot of research on Bemidji.

Johnson said it also helped that Webb managed similar-sized facilities in the past.

Before managing Ralston Arena, he was the general manager of the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University and the South Okanagan Events Centre in British Columbia before that. He also was the director of operations of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo., from 2003 to 2007.

“It’s a different game when you’re in a big market than it is when you’re trying to get somebody to come to Bemidji,” Johnson said.

City manager John Chattin, who also sits on the Sanford Center Advisory Board, said booking more events will be a major priority in the near future.

“I think that’s been kind of a universal complaint on the board and in the community that there’s not enough stuff going on over there,” Chattin said. “And (Webb) has a track record of creating summertime events in other communities.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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