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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 24 2012

Bluestem plan should be ready Tuesday

FARGO – A plan for working with the group that runs the Bluestem Center for the Arts should be ready for School Board consideration on Tuesday.

A tentative outline of the recommendation, worked out Friday during a meeting of the district’s Bluestem Ad Hoc Committee, aims to improve fundraising and pay off bonds and loans that helped build the south Moorhead home of Trollwood Performing Arts School.

The plan largely follows a framework for operation of the Bluestem Center proposed by School Board President Jim Johnson. It calls for:

There was extensive discussion Friday about how involved the district should be in filling up the schedule for the Bluestem Center.

By agreement, the center is blocked off for use by TPAS from May 15 to Aug. 1 so classes and various productions, including the annual main-stage musical, can be presented.

That leaves nine months of the year where the center could be used for other events.

Johnson said he wants to get other area arts organizations using the facility as much as possible.

That becomes more difficult if the facility is rented for events such as weddings, which may be scheduled 12 to 18 months in advance. The Bluestem group said 27 weddings are now booked at the facility, Johnson said.

The cash-starved organized has booked events such as weddings to make payroll and keep the center open, the committee agreed.

But those events don’t bring in enough cash to pay off long-term debt.

Board member Paul Meyers said it’s important to get the Bluestem group focused on fundraising to pay its debt and operating expenses.

“How do you re-engage the donor base? Weddings won’t do it,” Business Manager Brock Lietz said.

The Bluestem nonprofit group owes the district about $2.7 million for an interest-free loan, and $2.1 million for bonds issued to help build the $15 million facility.

Bluestem fundraisers failed to meet a $286,000 bond payment in December, forcing the Fargo School District to pay the installment and putting the nonprofit into default on an agreement with the district.

Nearly two-thirds of that money has since been paid to the district, Johnson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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