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Gov. Pawlenty to visit Bemidji today

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who came to Bemidji in January 2006 to signal his support of a Bemidji Regional Events Center, will be back today to ceremonially sign the bill that gives Bemidji $20 million.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who came to Bemidji in January 2006 to signal his support of a Bemidji Regional Events Center, will be back today to ceremonially sign the bill that gives Bemidji $20 million.

The Republican governor on Monday signed the public works bonding bill after making 52 line-item vetoes which lowered the bill from $925 million to $716 million.

In the process, he kept funding for a Bemidji Regional Events Center as well as other hockey facilities at Crookston, Duluth and St. Cloud.

Pawlenty today is flying around the state to hold ceremonial bill signings of the bonding bill in Albert Lea, St. Cloud and Bemidji.

His Bemidji appearance is set for 4:30 p.m. at Bemidji City Hall, where he will be joined by Mayor Richard Lehmann.

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He will sign the capital investment bill there "to celebrate the work of the Bemidji community in support of funding for the Bemidji Regional Events Center and the Bemidji State University Sattgast Science Building," according to the governor's public events schedule for the day.

BSU won bonding for its $8.9 million project to renovate and expand Sattgast Hall, the campus' science building. Pawlenty, however, line-item vetoed $8.8 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities property acquisitions at five campuses, including $2 million for BSU for the old Bemidji High School property at 15th Street.

Pawlenty, accompanied by House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, announced in Bemidji on Jan. 6, 2006, that he would include $3 million in his bonding bill that year for planning and design funds for a regional events center.

"There are a lot of different people who will come in and argue about the economic wisdom of this or that aspect of it," Pawlenty said then, "but in the end, you have to have some amenities in communities so a robust mix of people can say ... it's a fun, interesting, enriching place to live."

The push for a regional events center became key as it became apparent BSU would need modern ice facilities to keep its NCAA Division I ice hockey program, and the events center will have that program as an anchor tenant. But the community also lobbied through such efforts as Bemidji Day at the Capitol that the center would be an economic stimulus tool and will bring new visitors to Bemidji through concerts, trade shows and conventions.

Pawlenty in his 2006 visit realized that when asked by reporters. In a news conference, he said his staff had studied Bemidji's events center proposal at length.

"We came to the conclusion that this area of the state needs a regional events center," he said. "It's not only going to bring events but it's going to bring excitement and fun, and will act as a magnet, we hope, for tourism and activities and a quality of life that will be improved for citizens of this area."

The city also won another significant piece of the puzzle this session when Pawlenty signed a tax bill that will extend the city's half-cent sales tax for events center construction once it has raised $9.8 million for parks and trails improvements.

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The events center, with the main ice sheet only, is pegged at $67 million, with the sales tax expected to raise nearly $50 million over 30 years. The city also purchased the south shore area of Lake Bemidji for $14 million, which is where the events center will be located.

Meanwhile, while the Western Collegiate Hockey Association currently has a moratorium on new members, BSU was able to gain an agreement to have regularly scheduled games with WCHA opponents, provided BSU moves into the new rink by the 2010 season.

And, with the closure of the Northern Inn, the community will find itself without facilities to host a major convention until the new events center is built. City officials hope for a partnership with a hotel at the south shore to help provide those facilities.

Pawlenty starts today with an 11 a.m. ceremonial capital investment bill signing in Albert Lea to note that community's funding to clean up the North Edgewater Park landfill. He then speaks to the Development Corporation of Austin annual meeting in that city at noon.

At 2:30 p.m., Pawlenty will be in St. Cloud for a ceremonial bill signing to note funding for St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud Technical College, St. Cloud Convention Center, the National Hockey Center, Rocori Trail, Wagner Lake Park and other projects.

His last stop of the day is in Bemidji.

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