Bemidji City Council selects CSL to assist with search for new Sanford Center management firm

The Bemidji City Council on Monday approved moving forward with a firm to assist in its search for a new management company to operate the Sanford Center. The council also approved assessments for 2021 road work and heard a presentation from Visit Bemidji leadership.

Bemidji City Hall 2020 web art.jpg
Bemidji City Hall.

BEMIDJI -- Based on a recommendation from a special committee, during its meeting on Monday, Oct. 18, the Bemidji City Council authorized entering into a contract with a firm to assist with the managerial transition at the Sanford Center.

The firm the city has chosen to work with is Convention, Sports and Leisure International, or CSL. The firm is one of two companies to submit proposals, the other being Hunden Strategic Partners.

In its proposal, CSL noted it would review the following as part of its work:

  • Industry trends
  • Historic data
  • Other relevant contracts at the facility
  • Booking reports
  • Operating revenue and losses
  • Capital improvement needs
  • Operational subsidy funding
  • Debt services
  • Management structure

In addition to studying the facility’s background, CSL will also assist the city in developing and distributing a request for proposals to management firms. The Sanford Center Transition Committee met with both firms and determined the CSL was the firm to go forward with.
This is the second time the CSL will work with the city, as the firm did a market and feasibility for the Sanford Center. The decision to hire CSL again comes about a month after the council voted to initiate the termination of its contract with Iowa-based management company VenuWorks, which had been managing the event facility since it opened in 2010. The existing contract with VenuWorks, approved in 2018, had been set to go through 2024.

Initially, VenuWorks did propose renegotiating with the city for a new contract but later withdrew the offer. VenuWorks is now set to finish its time at the facility in March 2022.


According to City Manager Nate Mathews, the starting amount for the work CSL will be doing is $35,000. If more work is required of the firm, CSL will seek approval to exceed the amount.

“I appreciate the fact that we went out and looked for a couple of options,” said Councilmember Josh Peterson. “Compared to something else, CSL does look like it has the better plan.”

Earlier this year, CSL submitted a proposal to study operations at the facility, but some members of the council showed hesitancy as there were no other firms approaching the city with options.

“The previous study would have been looking backward, this one is looking forward,” Mayor Jorge Prince said. “We’re looking at how we can make the Sanford Center function in the best environment moving forward. Staff also shared with us their hesitancy in being the sole author of RFPs, and felt greater comfort in bringing in a professional resource to help.”

The Sanford Center broke ground in 2009 and has a footprint of 193,000 square feet. It contains an arena with more than 4,000 seats, serving as the home to the Bemidji State University hockey programs.

The facility also includes attached conference space for meetings, conventions and community events.

Since the facility opened, the city has made an operating investment on an annual basis to cover losses. In 2020, the operating investment was $450,000.

Visit Bemidji report

The local visitors and conventions bureau was also on the council’s meeting agenda. Visit Bemidji, established in 1989, is a nonprofit that contracts with the city to bring tourism and events to the community.


The report on the bureau’s past year was helmed by Peterson, who also serves as the organization’s director. Highlights from the past year in the report included:

  • Publishing a weekly fishing report in partnership with Dick Beardsley Fishing Guide Services.
  • Conducting sports marketing work to promote hockey, baseball, softball, soccer, pickleball and stock car racing.
  • Making marketing contributions toward the Sanford Center worth $45,200.
  • Partnering with the city of Bemidji, myBemidji, Sanford Health, Paul Bunyan Communications, the Sanford Center, 218 Relocate, Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College to have a booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

RELATED: Visit Bemidji triumphs at the Minnesota State Fair

The report also highlighted events Visit Bemidji sponsored, including:

  • The Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival
  • The Dragonboat Festival
  • The Blue Ox Marathon
  • First City of Lights
  • A stop on the Professional Muskie Tournament Trail
  • Loop the Lake
  • The Beltrami County Fair
  • United Way Fishing Tournament

Another agenda item for the council was approving assessments on work done as part of the annual Street Renewal Program. In 2021, city crews reconstructed the following segments of road as part of the program:

  • Fern Street Northwest, from Power Drive to U.S. Highway 71.
  • Ash Avenue Northwest, from Paul Bunyan Drive to 23rd Street.
  • 26th Street Northwest, from a dead end west of Delton Avenue to Bemidji Avenue.

The cost of the project came to $1.6 million and the assessments for the work are $263,561, about 16% of the total. The assessments approved by the council on Monday will be on 61 properties.
The full city council meeting can be viewed on the city's website.

What To Read Next
Get Local