Local residents to share issues with state lawmakers during Bemidji Day at the Capitol

More than 100 Bemidjians hit the State Capitol on Tuesday, angling to lure a limit of legislators on issues ranging from the Bemidji Regional Events Center to all day, every day kindergarten.

More than 100 Bemidjians hit the State Capitol on Tuesday, angling to lure a limit of legislators on issues ranging from the Bemidji Regional Events Center to all day, every day kindergarten.

"We are, again, at the Capitol at the best possible day," Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said Friday morning at a briefing for trip participants.

The third annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, will take two buses to St. Paul, where meetings have been arranged with all legislators and Bemidji lobby teams of three or four residents.

To help woo support, teams will present legislators a special gift -- a Northland Tackle-designed limited edition red spinner depicting a fish clad in Paul Bunyan lumberjack plaid and Bemidji's logo.

And that's in addition to the Bemidji contingent dressed in Bemidji Woolen Mills' red-and-black sweaters.


"The pace is just going to be frenetic, more so than any normal day at the Capitol," Moe said, noting that Tuesday is the first day back from an Easter break and Wednesday is a bill deadline. "And the bonding bill is in the last few steps of negotiations between the House and Senate. Our timing is perfect."

Topping the list of a half dozen lobby items is the regional events center, where Bemidji is asking for $22 million in state bonding for the project. Another key factor, allowing Bemidji's half-cent sales tax to be extended to provide a local match for events center construction, is already law.

The events center wasn't included in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bonding bill, and House/Senate negotiators were working with $20 million as of Friday.

"We need $20 million," Moe said. "The city won't build the arena portion of our events center without $20 million. And we lose BSU hockey without the arena. We can still do some type of development on the south shore, because we have passed the local option sales tax -- the governor has signed it."

Without at least $20 million in state funding, "we don't move ahead with (NCAA) Division I hockey and we don't move ahead with a facility that's going to house them, and that program's going to be done," Moe said.

Those meeting with bonding negotiators need to point out the state already has a $3 million investment in the project in planning and design funds earlier given to Bemidji, and that the facility will have a $13 million annual economic impact on the region. Plus, said Moe, developing the property will provide a Paul Bunyan Trail connection.

While the Bemidji City Council has a resolution on record capping the project at $50 million, subsequent support for the sales tax extension will provide more funding and other funding sources will boost the project, it appears.

"We're not asking for 100 percent funding from the state," said Mike Smith, Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce president. "The project -- the events center piece -- will be about $76 million, and we're only asking for a total of $25 million or a net of $22 million, which is about 30 percent.


"And of the total $91 million project, it's something on the order of 25" percent, Smith said. "We're highly leveraging the state investment."

A brochure on the project prepared for legislators says a $22 million state investment will leverage a $66 million local share with bonding accounting for a 28 percent share of the project. It also notes that local funding includes the sales tax extension revenues plus "grants, contributions from a convention center partner and land sale revenues."

Smith called it "critical" that Bemidji State has already secured $1.5 million in commitments on the sale of 25 arena suites for its hockey program, as well as a commitment for an expanded WCHA game schedule in the new arena.

That the state's share is still below 50 percent needs to be explained to lawmakers, said Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, as the original proposal called for a $35 million facility.

"We were then looking at a $14 million commitment by the Legislature, and $3 million of that has been given," Olson said. Now the city is asking for "significantly more money, and at a time when we're facing budget challenges, that's a tough argument to make."

She credited Sens. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, for holding firm on Bemidji's request. They chair committees for capital investment, taxes and economic development, respectively.

"Bemidji has done better than any other community similarly situated in making that argument," Olson said. "Even though we weren't in the governor's initial proposal, and even though there was an initial indication that we weren't even going to be getting the sales tax extension that the voters approved, with a lot of hard work and effort by all if you, we were able to get that commitment for the sales tax extension which is now law."

Now getting at least $20 million in bonding is critical, she said. "There's a lot of pressure right now to reduce that overall bonding number from $925 million to the $825 million that the governor is proposing. If we do that, the odds are almost certain the bonding money (for the events center) will be either lost or significantly reduced."


Residents need to point out on Tuesday the governor's initial commitment to the project and that a regional events center plays an important role in the community's economic development plans, Olson said.

"At this stage, we have a very significant amount of potential development that I understand is poised to move forward, but we really need this piece of the puzzle to go into place for the economic future of the Bemidji community," she said.

Smith hailed the business community for participating, with about 30 business people attending and more than triple the business involvement in previous years.

Of the 100 registered for the trip, 34 represent business plus five business organizations, 19 from education, 14 from community agencies, 17 BSU or Bemidji High School students, seven from local government and four in health-related fields, said Lori Paris, Chamber executive director.

"Bemidji Day at the Capitol is by far the most effective day at the Capitol of those down there," Moe said, adding that Bemidji does more with fewer people than other cities such as Duluth and Rochester, which also hold Capitol days.

"We're able to, very strategic planning, really leverage your time and interests and knowledge to get pointed meetings with legislators, actually advocating for specific things that are important to us," Moe said.

Most of the day Tuesday will be spent with team meetings with legislators, but a noon program at the Capitol's Great Hall will feature remarks to the Bemidji delegation from Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, on transportation issues, Pawlenty Chief of Staff Dan McElroy and Mark Lofthus of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development on small business initiatives in the 2008 session.

Bemidji buses return home after an evening reception for lawmakers at the Kelly Inn.


Some who stay over Tuesday night will attend a legislative breakfast featuring local lawmakers and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee.

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