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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 01 2012

Bluestem, WE Fest look for deal

FARGO – Bluestem fundraisers are nearly ready to formalize a contract with the promoters of WE Fest to hold concerts at the Bluestem Center for the Arts amphitheater in south Moorhead, Executive Director Sue Wiger said Friday.

Wiger said she tried last week to set up a concert date for this summer that would enact the agreement with Rose Presents, but was overruled by Fargo Public Schools and Trollwood Performing Arts School, the district’s summer theater and arts school.

Wiger said when a concert date is set, the pact with Rose Presents – greatly altered since December – can go forward.

At the same time, Fargo School District officials are still reviewing how to deal with Bluestem Center for the Arts’ $2.1 million in bonded debt: either continuing to make payments, with Bluestem fund-raisers providing what money they can; or perhaps having the district pay off the bonds, Business Manager Broc Lietz said.

Bluestem fundraisers also owe the district about $2.7 million for a no-interest loan used to finish the facility.

TPAS used to be based in north Fargo, but at Trollwood Park forced the move to build the Bluestem facility in south Moorhead.

The agreement with WE Fest promoter Rose Presents has been in the works since late last year, according to emails obtained by The Forum in a North Dakota Open Records law request.

Wiger said working with Rose Presents, which promotes the annual country music festival in Detroit Lakes, Minn., could “help bring the concerts to the next level.”

She said both sides will use this year as a test, and reassess how it works in the fall.

“They took WE Fest from the days it was nearly bankrupt, to what it is now,” Wiger said. “I hope it is successful for the both of us and it’s a long-term agreement.”

Emails show the Rose Presents deal was initially approved by the Bluestem board in December. But before the agreement could be finalized, it was put on hold by the Fargo School District.

That move came after the district made a $286,000 bond payment on the facility for the Bluestem board in December. The payment put Bluestem in default on an agreement with the district. The district then took over the facility, per a provision in the agreement. In doing so, district officials said they would review any contracts before they would be approved.

The hold on the concert contract angered Bluestem board President Dave Olig, and he cut loose in a Jan. 10 email to Lietz, Fargo Superintendent Rick Buresh and others.

“I’m more flabbergasted than surprised,” he wrote.

“This email (putting the contract on hold) is indicative of the ongoing situation between FPS (Fargo Public Schools) and Bluestem,” Olig wrote. “The level of communication, or lack of same, involved in this is utterly amazing. … This is not what I would expect in dealing with a ‘partner.’ ”

Fargo School Board President Jim Johnson said the board wanted to be sure any contract would ensure that Trollwood Performing Arts School could do its teaching and that other regional arts groups could use the south Moorhead facility.

The current agreement with Rose Presents calls for Bluestem to get 20 percent of the net proceeds of any concerts at the facility, which would be disbursed at the end of the concert season, Wiger said.

An earlier agreement also included some guarantees, such as a $10,000 retainer and a $10,000 exclusive rights fee. Those fees would have been subtracted from Bluestem’s total share of the net proceeds.

“We can’t let the momentum die” after last summer’s concerts, which included the Moody Blues, Alice Cooper, Sheryl Crow, George Thoroughgood, a symphony event and a jazz festival, Wiger said.

“If we’re going to be successful, we have to provide a large amount of things to the community,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lietz said the district is considering options for paying off the Bluestem fundraisers’ bonded debt.

Johnson said for now, however, it’s likely the School District will have to continue to lay out funds to pay the Bluestem board’s bonded debt. He said he doesn’t know if Bluestem has a capital campaign ready for the coming year.

This year’s bond payments, due in June and December, total about $573,000. Another $200,000 to $300,000 will be needed for operating expenses and special assessments.

“I think their inability to meet the payment in December is still the situation,” Johnson said of Bluestem’s finances.

Indeed, a Jan. 31 email obtained by The Forum shows Olig had to ask the district to cover some of the Bluestem group’s bills early this year.

Olig asked Johnson to consider directing the School District’s finance office to pay all of the operation accounts payable for Bluestem, but hold off on some other payments.

“Based on the information I have, this will overdraw our current cash account by approximately $1,200,” Olig wrote. “I anticipate that we will be in this difficult cash flow situation for the next 3-6 months as we endeavor to move forward with a major financial restructuring plan.”


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