The Bemidji City Council made an unexpected move towards terminating the contract with VenuWorks.
VenuWorks has managed the Sanford Center since it opened its doors in 2010.
During the meeting last night, councilmembers Ron Johnson, Audrey Thayer, Josh Peterson and Mayor Jorge Prince voted to direct staff towards terminating the contract, despite warnings about the uncertainty such a move would make.
City Attorney Al Felix expressed concern that the motives behind the termination may not be in the best interest of the city.
The contract with VenuWorks says once termination has begun, the contract will cease in 180 days.
Mayor Jorge Prince noted that he had reviewed data from the Sanford Center and he thought that the current contract with VenuWorks does not promote efficiency.
Emelie Rivera, one of the three council members who voted against terminating VenuWorks, pointed out that the city’s partners with the Sanford Center, largely Bemidji State University and Sanford Health, were not present at the meeting to provide input on the decision.
The council did not vote for a third-party review of the Sanford Center, which was anticipated from this meeting per the agenda.
At a recent listening session, members of the Bemidji Alliance requested the review before any further discussions on a hospitality or a food and beverage tax should proceed.
The tax would offset the Sanford Center’s deficit, which in recent years has amounted to around $300,000 each year.
Without another funding mechanism, the deficit is paid through city property taxes.
The city may hire another managing company to operate the Sanford Center, or they may choose to operate it in-house, but no decision was made during Tuesday night’s meeting.
City staff is presenting the preliminary budget to the council in less than two weeks.
At that meeting, any expenses or revenues budgeted for next year can only decrease before the final budget is set in December.