If anyone didn’t know anything about the Bemidji Event Center Project and showed up at Monday’s 45 minute "work session" by our city government, you could see why its in the sad shape its in. The great Bemidji State Beaver football team could not have executed a better "end around" than what some council members, the Mayor and the City Administrator did at that meeting.
The meeting began with BSU Jon Quistgaard stepping up to the plate with former coach Bob Peters and telling the council the Bemidji State is committed to Div. 1 hockey and we are not going the way of Wayne State (who announced they were dropping out of Div 1 hockey after this year). He went out and showed commitment by stating that Bemidji State wanted to be the major tenant in an event center and that an agreement could be achieved by January 1st, in time to go to the legislative session this spring to be looked upon in the 2008 bonding package. That really was the only 20 minutes of leadership shown that evening.
The mayor then stated that himself, Jerry Downs/City Councilman and Nancy Erickson/City Councilwoman would represent the city in negotiations with the University. ( Mr. Downs and Ms. Erickson could hardly be called unbiased supporters of the center). Councilman Ron Johnson, who has supported the center, offered to be on the city negotiations team only to be rebuffed by the mayor.
Then representatives of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission (who by the way were HIRED by the City and approved by the CITY COUNCIL to help support the city in the follow though of this project) made a suggestion of hiring attorney Brian Schoenborn from St.Cloud to help the city hammer out a lease agreement. Mr. Schoenborn is not just some body’s relative. He works for one of the largest sports attorney firms in the nation, working with the Minnesota Wild and the Twins. They also have owned 4 franchises including the hockey teams in Sioux Falls and Des Moines. The firm also owns an arena in Des Moines. He came and spoke at 3 public gatherings/information sessions bringing his expertise to our local project. The HRDC in good faith had talked to him and he had agreed to not only take on the Bemidji project (which he was familiar with) but apparently at a very attractive fee structure. Councilwoman Barbara Meuers, a consistent anti event center advocate, immediately weighed in by saying she "had not met him" (Brian Schoenborn) and could not support him helping the city. Councilman Hellquist than stated he had received "several negative emails" about Mr. Scheonborn. The HRDC officials offered to bring him back for Meusers to meet him. But by this time Hellquist put in a motion that none of this was on the agenda and moved to adjourn, which was seconded by Meuers. Everyone voted in favor and the meeting was done. All this, while the mayor and the city administrator looked on. And the "end around" was complete! Mr. Hellquist was out of the chambers and heading home before the the ink was dried on the minutes!
Now here is where we are with this. Before January 1st the city has to come up with a lease agreement with BSU. Unless Ms. Meuers and the negotiating "team" can find a CONVENTION/EVENTS CENTER LEASE AGREEMENT on the Internet (yeah… they may need a notary public to ok it) the city will still have to hire someone who is an expert (probably a lawyer…maybe one who knows sports and events centers…mmmmm where can you find those?) to work on the terms. That means going out and finding someone…making sure everyone meets him or her (we can’t hire someone we’ve never met), bringing them up to speed on this project and getting the job done. The HRDC, hired by a vote of 6 to 1 to represent the city, has backed out of the project…and rightfully so. Why should good faith efforts be made when nobody respects the organization. So now the city attorney and the city staff, who know nothing of any of this type of project, will be the "go to people." Nothing against them, but I am sure we will not get the level of expertise we would have gotten with the HRDC and Mr. Schoenborn.
The bottom line is although these people are elected and have sworn to uphold the wishes of the people…such as a referendum for an event center…whether it was by 43 votes or 43000 votes…they (about 4 council members and the mayor and the city administrator) are doing everything in their power to derail and undermine this project because of their personal anti hockey/anti growth/anti spend money to make money attitude. A mayor with strong leadership skills would pull the group together and get people together heading in one direction to follow through with the wishes of the people…whether it was 51% of the people or 99% of the people. Mr. Mayor…are you truthfully doing due diligence with this project? Mr. City Administrator you were brought in from the Swift County Administrator position to the City of Bemidji with the charge of being the FT action figure for this city. Where have you been for the past year on this project? The business community has communicated, emailed, written and practically begged for leadership from the city government on this issue, as they see its potential. Nobody has had the nerve to step forward from the city. We even refused State money by asking for less State Funding than what was being offered! Can you see why developers have such a difficult time doing business in Bemidji?
My mother has a wise saying. "Be Careful What You Ask For Because You Just Might Get It". The citizens of Bemidji have asked for an EVENT CENTER! This wasn’t some civics class vote. Through the strong leadership of Frank Moe and others from our legislative congregation, the City has gotten virtually everything they have wanted on this issue. State money is waiting to be used..and will be used by another city, other than Bemidji IF WE DON’T ACT. This does not rest with the business community, it does not rest with BSU, it now rests with the City and its elected government officials. QUIT PLAYING GAMES AND GET THE EVENT CENTER ON TRACK AND GOING AS LEGALLY DEMANDED BY YOUR CONSTITUANTS. The mayor mentioned on Monday night about his legacy. Right now nobody’s legacy is looking very good.