Bemidji City Council to discuss contract with VenuWorks next week

The Bemidji City Council will discuss possible re-negotiations with VenuWorks during a special session next week.

After the council came to a consensus of setting the preliminary budget and levy next week at an 8.5 percent increase, VenuWorks CEO Bill Peters made an offer to work out some of the council’s issues with the contract.

Peters provided a rundown of the annual Sanford Center deficit.

In 2018, the deficit was $421,700. In 2019, it was $429,500. In 2020, the deficit was $189,250, and this year, the projected deficit is $274,000.

City Attorney Al Felix advised that a discussion between the two parties is reasonable, and he also noted that such negotiations with all six members of the council would be subject to open meeting law.

Since things are now in motion to move towards termination, the 180-day clock is already ticking, but Peters assured the council that if they decide to go through with ending the management relationship of the Sanford Center, VenuWorks would do all they can to ensure a seamless transition.

As it stands, the current contract would expire in early March, which, in the college hockey realm, is playoff season.

Councilmember Ron Johnson made the motion to terminate last week but said he was open to at least discussing a possible new contract with VenuWorks.

The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, before the regular meeting at 6 p.m.

The preliminary levy will be set during the regular meeting of the council next week. The council reached a consensus to set it at an 8.5 percent increase over last year.

An 8.5 percent increase is about two points higher than the increase last year, which would amount to $339,000.

Some possible uses of those dollars include:

  • $180,000 for Sanford Center’s capital improvement needs
  • $50,000 for Parks and Recreation. This funding would be used towards repairs of assets already in the parks, particularly Cameron Park. Parks Director Marcia Larson said the boat lift is failing and the shelter needs work.
  • $30,000 city contribution toward staffing at the Tourist Information Center. Visit Bemidji would contribute another $30,000 and the staffer would come from the Parks department. Another $30,000 would come from rental revenue, for bikes, sleds, snowshoes, etc.
  • $30,000 in various city building maintenance, such as the parking lot at the Public Works Facility.
  • $10,000 in seed money for Public Arts. Councilmember Emelie Rivera said some murals are fading and may need work soon, and the seed money would be used as a match for available grants.
  • $70,000 for a solar panel investment, which would see some payoff in about 11 years in rebates from Ottertail Power.
  • A space study for City Hall. City Manager Nate Mathews said as the city grows, they will need more employees, and they are running out of space at City Hall. The space study would involve hiring an architect to determine usable space within the building and possible remodels that could take place.

After the preliminary budget is set, the city can only decrease the budget and levy at the final budget meeting in December.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University.


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