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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 24 2012

Bluestem wants $2.1 mllion debt cleared

FARGO – The Bluestem fundraising group is proposing the Fargo School District pay off $2.1 million in bonds on the Bluestem Center for the Arts, as well as forgive that debt.

Dave Olig, president of the Bluestem board of directors, also asked the School Board Tuesday that his group be allowed to delay the start of repaying a $2.74 million interest-free loan for nearly two more years. And he sought more flexibility on available dates for events during the summer run of the Trollwood Performing Arts School.

“I would tell you there’s a tremendous expectation in the community for Fargo Public Schools to pay the bond,” Olig said.

Bluestem can’t make its June or December $286,000 bond installments, and will unlikely be able to in the future, he said.

Olig added that Bluestem can’t fundraise unless it gives the community what it wants. That, he implied, was more concerts.

“It’s a totally different ballgame,” Olig said. “Until the community buys back in, we’re done.”

But board members were leery of giving Bluestem a pass on the debt or unrestricted freedom to schedule concerts or other events.

Instead, the board voted to re-form its ad hoc committee on the Bluestem issue, and aim to have a recommendation for a new operating agreement ready by the board’s next meeting in two weeks.

Bluestem was created to support the Trollwood Performing Arts School. The Bluestem Center for the Arts was built in south Moorhead to house Trollwood and support other arts programs.

Board President Jim Johnson urged the board to consider repaying the debt to save $70,000 in interest, then determine later if they will forgive it.

“We need to protect the taxpayers we represent,” Johnson said.

Olig asked that the first installment to repay the district’s $2.74 million interest free loan to Bluestem be delayed until Feb. 1, 2014.

He then urged the funds paid on the loan go toward program growth and development, rather than back into the coffers of the school district.

But board members were leery of that idea, too.

“I can’t imagine trying to sell expanded Trollwood right now,” Kris Wallman said.

Olig also lobbied the board to create a position of “artistic director” or “program director” for the site to maximize the use of the site and determine what program among users would get priority for the main stage.

“I think we could do a better job of utilizing the facility,” Olig said.

Last year, Bluestem managed to hold a series of concerts that include Sheryl Crow, The Moody Blues, Lyle Lovett and others.

In an April 13 letter to Johnson, Olig said Bluestem had a chance to book Chicago and the Beach Boys this year, but “could not receive the necessary cooperation from Fargo Public Schools to allow the events to be scheduled.”

Olig tried to sell the board on the idea that the School District had little tied up financially in the $15 million facility.

Linda Coates was blunt with Olig on the issue.

“What I see is we’re responsible for north of

$5 million,” she said. “The whole reason the place was built was for our program. If it hadn’t been for that, they wouldn’t have built” that big amphitheatre.

John Strand again called on the board to create a committee including representatives for the city of Moorhead, Bluestem and the school district to hammer out a new financial and operational agreement that would spread out some of the costs tied to the site.

Fellow board members were sympathetic to the idea, but said action was needed now to get the site and fundraising working efficiently.

The board also voted to have Superintendent Rick Buresh or anyone he designates control scheduling at the Bluestem Center for the Arts.

In other business, the board learned that Fargo biotech firm Aldevron accepted the board’s counteroffer of $700,000 to buy the Woodrow Wilson school building and land.

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