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New Sanford Center general manager meets with Bemidji City Council, Visit Bemidji

Sheila Murphy met with members of the Bemidji City Council and Visit Bemidji on Monday, April 4, in her new role as the general manager of the Sanford Center.

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Sheila Murphy, new general manager at the Sanford Center, meets with Bemidji City Council members and Visit Bemidji staff on Monday, April 4, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The Sanford Center has welcomed a new face in another step toward its goal to revive the facility under new management.

Sheila Murphy has been hired as the new general manager of the Sanford Center, a position that includes coordinating and booking events to come to Bemidji.

Murphy, who is the former general manager of Victory Theatre in Evansville, Ind., began the first week of her new position by meeting with members of the Bemidji City Council and Visit Bemidji to discuss what she hopes to accomplish.

“I think we’ll really be able to expand, I’m excited about it,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s hiring takes place just a few weeks after the center transitioned to the management of ASM Global following the city's termination of its contract with the previous management company, VenuWorks.

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After years of running annual deficits averaging $300,000 a year, the city is looking to make the event center profitable for the first time in its history,

“As a council, we’ve taken some steps over the past year to hopefully move this center forward,” Mayor Jorge Prince said. “Today we take another very positive step forward.”

In addition to reducing the fiscal deficit, another focus during the transition has been ensuring the Sanford Center is a place for community engagement.

“I’d like to get some community events,” Murphy said. “I’m very excited to be here, I loved the town right away.”

As the new general manager, she believes there is a strong potential to bring more events into Bemidji, and explained that this would be her initial goal.

In her previous position in Indiana, Murphy increased the number of events the theater hosted by four times, a skill she hopes she can bring to Bemidji.

“There’s a lot of potential here,” she added. “I don’t see any reason we can’t get those numbers up.”

In addition to community-grown events, Murphy will also be working with agents and marketers to bring in outside acts and concerts, noting that her own favorite type of show to book is comedy.

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“My love is booking events,” she said. “We’re in the best industry ever because our job is to help people have fun.”

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Bemidji City Council members and Visit Bemidji staff meet with Sheila Murphy, new general manager at the Sanford Center, on Monday, April 4, 2022.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

A prime location

Finding new potential at the Sanford Center was also discussed, with Prince highlighting the location of the facility on the shores of Lake Bemidji. Its prime location might encourage more outdoor events in addition to those in the building.

“We always focus on the building,” Prince said, “but we also have a lot of outdoor space right on Lake Bemidji.”

Murphy and the city council members did acknowledge that there will be some challenges ahead, citing the far north location of Bemidji and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They believe, however, that these are both surmountable.

In regards to the location, Murphy hopes that will only be a concern in the winter when the weather is worse. During those times ASM Global will be able to assist with its own event development teams and route acts to Bemidji.

“(ASM Global) gave us a lot of feedback on the corporate teams they have for developing events here,” Prince said.

With the pandemic, Murphy brought up the increase the industry has seen in people attending events as restrictions have relaxed.

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“It’s starting to go back a little bit to the old normal,” Murphy said. “People seem to be ready to come out to the shows.”

But even as business returns to normal and people start attending events, it’s important to do things safely, Murphy emphasized.

“We can get back to business… obviously we want to do it safely as well,” she said.

Murphy expressed her excitement for the new position and her optimism for the future of the Sanford Center. She also mentioned how she looks forward to getting to know the community and becoming a part of it.

“My life now is not just the Sanford Center," she said, "it’s Bemidji.”

Related Topics: BEMIDJI CITY COUNCIL
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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