BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council will have a doubleheader on Monday, Sept. 20. with back-to-back meetings.
The council will first meet at 3 p.m. to negotiate with the Iowa-based company VenuWorks on their contract to manage the Sanford Center event facility. Then, at 6 p.m., the council will reconvene for its second September meeting to discuss the preliminary tax levy.
The first meeting is a follow-up to the council's Sept. 7 decision to terminate its existing contract with VenuWorks, which has managed the Sanford Center since 2010. On Sept. 13, VenuWorks officials said they were willing to negotiate with the city on a new contract to continue operating the city-owned facility.
According to city documents, VenuWorks is expected to offer a new agreement of 39 months, beginning in October and ending in December 2024. The proposal would keep the scope of services the same.
However, there would be no fixed management fee. Instead, VenuWorks would operate with an incentive fee, with the company being entitled to a fee equal to 35% of the amount the city's subsidy of the building is below $300,000. On an annual basis, the city invests hundreds of thousands of dollars into the facility to cover operating losses.
Last year, the city made an investment of $450,000. The offer from VenuWorks will expire on Oct. 15.
Should the council decide to move on from VenuWorks, the company will manage the Sanford Center into March. In the meantime, the council would put out a request for proposals to consider other options for the facility's management.
The 193,000 square-foot building is home of Bemidji State's hockey programs and has a 4,000-seat arena with attached conference space. BSU Athletic Director Tracey Dill will be attending Monday's first meeting to provide input from the university's perspective.
In a letter to the council, BSU President Faith Hensrud wrote, "the council vote earlier this month was a surprise to us at BSU and does not seem to be in the best interest of our community and as your primary tenant, I urge you to safeguard the operations of the Sanford Center by ensuring the contract with VenuWorks continues so it does not impact Beaver Hockey as we begin our seasons and approach playoffs for both the WCHA and CCHA in early March."
Tax levy and vacancy
At its regular meeting, the council is set to vote on its preliminary tax levy. At a Sept. 13 work session, the council came to a consensus on an 8.5% preliminary tax levy increase from the 2021 amount of $6.5 million, bringing the total to $7.13 million.
The increase in dollars would allow the city to allocate $339,000 in spending for capital improvements at the Sanford Center, city building maintenance, park improvements, Tourist Information Center operations, street funding, Railroad Corridor development and other needs.
The resolution before the council Monday will set the preliminary tax levy and schedule a truth in taxation public hearing for Dec. 6. The final vote on the city's levy for 2022 will take place later in December. Before then, the council can lower the levy, but not raise it.
Another item on the council's agenda is the resignation of former member Nancy Erickson, who resigned on Sept. 8. Erickson, who had been in city government for 16 years, cited a change in direction of the council for her choice to resign.
With the resignation, the council must declare a vacancy and order a special election. City documents show the order will create a filing period from Nov. 30-Dec. 14, with an election to follow on Feb. 8, 2022.
Should no candidate reach more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election will take place on Aug. 9, 2022.
Because Erickson was also mayor pro tem, a new council member must also be selected for the role. The council member in the position takes over mayoral duties in cases where the mayor is absent.
The council's 6 p.m. meeting is broadcast at the city's website.