Limited operations in first half of 2021 likely for Sanford Center

Staff from the Sanford Center briefed the Bemidji City Council Monday on expected operations to start the year. Additionally, details on the 2021 budget were provided.

The Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
The Sanford Center. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service

BEMIDJI -- With the coronavirus pandemic extending well into 2021, the Sanford Center is expecting a scaled back operation to start the year.

The 193,000 square-foot event facility is owned by the city and operated by the Ames, Iowa-based company VenuWorks. Opened in 2010, the building is the home of BSU's hockey programs, as it includes an arena with more than 4,000 seats, as well as conference space.

According to a report previewing 2021 presented to the Bemidji City Council on Monday, the Sanford Center is anticipating very little to no fans in the building for hockey games through March. As a result, Sanford Center staff said Monday that there will be no suite or club lease revenue until September, but there will also be a reduction in expenses.

Little to no growth in advertising is expected in 2021, the report showed, and there are also no concerts being budgeted in the facility until June.

"Facilities like ours are places people want to talk to," said Tiffany Vickaryous-Hubbard, the facility's executive director. "Throughout the process, I've kept good relationships with promoters that hold concerts throughout the nation and we're definitely on their radar. They're just waiting for where the vaccine is headed and where different states are going with COVID rules. Everybody is ready, as soon as we get the word, we're confident things are going to bounce back, and our third and fourth quarters I believe will be really good."


One positive reflected in the presentation was that the Sanford Center anticipates more weddings in 2021, as several were postponed in 2020.

The budget, approved by the Sanford Center's Board of Directors, shows a gross profit of $1.98 million for 2021, and total expenses coming to $2.58 million. The net loss next year will be $590,544, but when accounting for an operating investment by the city of $450,000, the amount comes to $140,554.

"We would look for funding in two different places," said Finance Director Ron Eischens on making up the difference. "One, the 2021 budget has a surplus of about $110,000. That would be the first place. After that, it would be reserves that the city has to finance unexpected, unanticipated expenses."

The Sanford Center had an operating loss in 2020 budgeted at $453,606, and also had an investment of $450,000, bringing the loss to $3,606. Since opening, on average, the Sanford Center has had losses annually of more than $300,000.

However, several event facilities in the state operate at a loss, as their primary purpose is to attract visitors for an economic impact. For Bemidji, the economic impact from the Sanford Center was $17.7 million in 2019.

After hearing the presentation, Ward 3 Council member Ron Johnson said he hoped staff could have done more with the budget.

"We invested $450,000, but that's not typical, as it's been going up fairly consistently for the last couple of years," Johnson said. "It's at $450,000 now, and you couldn't meet that last year. I just would like to see a little more creativity in dealing with the budget so we don't have to be going back to the taxpayers on this."

In his remarks, Ward 1 Council member Michael Meehlhause said he appreciated the efforts by VenuWorks, though, considering COVID-19 issues.


"I want to say, based on what I've heard, considering the challenges that have been thrown your way this year, I want to commend you and your staff," Meehlhause said. "I think you've been very creative and thoughtful in putting together this budget considering all of the unknowns we face."

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