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Pioneer Editorial: Event center win-win for budget, jobs

A month from now, groundbreaking ceremonies will be held for the new Bemidji Regional Event Center. And day by day, it's looking more and more like a win-win project for the community.

Over the last several weeks, including this week, the Bemidji City Council has been awarding bids for event center construction. The last slew of bids, from doors and frames to the ice rink, came in a total of $12.3 million under the construction budget.

Much of that can be said of the times -- we're in a deep recession and good bids will be had from companies wanting public works jobs. But that's also good news for taxpayers.

Because of the savings, City Manager John Chattin recommended, and the council voted its acceptance, to lower the project budget by $10 million, thus reducing the amount of money the city wou7ld have to find in tax-increment financing costs or from anticipated land sales.

Making the project cost less has got to help taxpayers who have been concerned about project cost.

And the work itself is important. As we said, contractors are looking for work in a recession. The Bemidji Regional Event Center is projected to provide 150 to 200 construction jobs for 22 months. If one looks at the bids awarded this week, many of the firms were local or regional firms and nearly all Minnesota firms. That's mostly work for people in our greater community, and that's an important payroll that will move several times through our community for the next 22 months.

And once completed, the event center will provide 126 to 219 permanent jobs, with an annual payroll of $3.3 million to $5.8 million, with a projected economic impact to our community of $13.1 million.

Hopes are high that Bemidji State University will become a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association by the center's opening, bringing top-notch NCAA Division I hockey to Bemidji and filling the area -- and the town -- with excitement. But more important are all the other events the facility will be able to host over the year, becoming a real asset to Bemidji as a regional center.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an event center supporter, announced in St. Paul on Wednesday a state plan to grow tourist and convention traffic to Minnesota. Launching the Web site,, the site gives meeting destinations throughout the state. We plan to add the event center when it is ready to accept conferences and conventions, which are huge money-generators to a city's economy.

The turning of dirt next month will begin a new era for our community, one in which Bemidji grows as a regional center, an outcome we'll be ready to embrace.