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Bemidji City Council receives update on Sanford Center management proposals, water treatment plant expansion

The Bemidji City Council received updates during a work session on Monday on design elements to be included in the next phase of the city’s water treatment facility and the progress of Sanford Center’s new management transition.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI – The Sanford Center Transition Committee outlined a big update at the Bemidji City Council meeting on Monday, announcing they have moved to the interview stage in the search for a new management company of the event center.

The Sanford Center, which was built by the city and opened in 2010, has seen numerous turnovers in leadership culminating in the early termination of the city’s contract with VenuWorks , a management company based in Iowa, last September.

Since the decision to discontinue their relationship with VenuWorks, the city has been searching for a new management company on a tight schedule, with VenuWorks set to vacate the Sanford Center in March.

On Monday, the Sanford Center Transition Committee updated the council that the group had an interview scheduled for Jan. 25 with ASM Global , which is known for running US Bank Stadium and Target Center, about their proposal to manage the facility.

Three interested parties approached the committee, among them ASM Global, who sent in a 200 page proposal outlining their plans to the group.

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In the proposal, ANS Global summarized their financial expectations for the first three years, and their plan to limit the deficit before beginning to turn a profit. In the outline, a loss of $190,000 dollars is anticipated the first year, reduced to just $6,000 in year two, followed by a profit of $158,000 in the third year.

Once the Sanford Center becomes profitable, ASM Global would take 40% of the revenue it generates under this proposal.

ASM Global would also cover the transition costs as management is changed, as well as creating a fund of $200,000 dollars for capital improvements to the facility, and a $100,000 grant to cover the initial risk.

Since it opened, the Sanford Center has been running operating losses, covered by a yearly investment from the city and amounting to $300,000 annually, one of the factors prompting the management change. The most recent year, however, had lower than anticipated losses, leaving $600,000 in the center’s operating budget.

“We’re in a pretty strong financial position as we move into this transition,” said Mayor Jorge Prince, who is also a member of the transition committee.

Among the chief concerns brought up by city council members was the relationship between the community and the Sanford Center, bringing up points of access and commitment to the residents of Bemidji and the surrounding area.

“I believe that this city deserves a good representation from the Sanford Center,” said At-Large Councilmember Daniel Jourdain, highlighting the importance of affordability and accessibility to local groups and organizations.

If the planned interviews go well with ASM Global, the contract will be finalized and the new management would begin in March before Venuworks vacates the facility.

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“What they’re proposing I think could be really good for the community,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Ron Johnson, though the question remains as to whether ASM Global will be the final selection to manage the Sanford Center.

Water Treatment Facility update

The city council also received an update on upcoming changes for the city’s water treatment plant located near the Bemidji Regional Airport. The project is moving into Phase 2, which consists of an expansion to the current building and will increase the volume of water the plant will be able to treat.

The city approved the construction of the plant in summer 2020 and it was completed at a cost of $7.4 million, after water pumped from the wells, adjacent to the airport, showed signs of PFAs. Those chemicals were developed by the Minnesota-based company 3M and were previously used in firefighting foams. They ended up in the wells because local fire departments have used the Bemidji Regional Airport as a training ground.

Since the plant began functioning in early 2021 , tests have shown that PFA chemicals, which are pervasive in the environment and don't break down over time, are no longer found.

Phase 1, which replaced the old water treatment plant with a new structure, is able to treat 15,000 gallons of water per minute, the Phase 2 expansion would increase that to 25,000 gallons per minute.

The design, provided by architectural firm Barr Engineering, will also include the addition of office space, landscaping and a water quality testing lab. Bids for construction of the expansion will open in May before being presented to the city council for selection on June 6. Construction is expected to begin in July.

During the update, Ward 1 Councilmember Audrey Thayer asked about the possibility of the plant being at least partially powered by solar panels, something that received considerable discussion from the council.

The current proposal does not include solar, but is designed so that it could be added in the future. If solar power was to be included, a number of factors would have to be considered, such as initial cost and the proximity to the airport.

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The council agreed to look further into solar, asking city staff to reach out to the airport to discuss the possibility of a glare study and discussing with Barr Engineering the potential of searching for a solar consultant.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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