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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 27 2012

Fargo prepares some ‘tough love’ for Bluestem

FARGO – A Fargo School Board committee agreed Friday on several points of “tough love” they’ll present at a meeting with representatives of the Bluestem organization next week to build a plan to run Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead.

The ad hoc committee said they’ll tell Bluestem officials Tuesday that the Fargo School District plans to continue operating the facility, as it has officially since February.

The ad hoc group also suggested that the school district would probably agree to delay the start of payments of a $2.7 million interest-free loan until February 2014, as Bluestem has requested.

But ad hoc group members – Board President Jim Johnson, plus fellow board members Paul Meyers and Rick Steen – weren’t in the forgiving mood when it came to the $2.1 million in bond debt remaining.

Bluestem President Dave Olig has asked the district to pay off and forgive repayment of those bonds, which were issued to build the facility.

The trio agreed the school board would probably agree to re-evaluating the issue of bond debt repayment in 12 months. But there will be no automatic forgiveness of that debt, they said.

“We’re going to strongly defend the resources of the district,” Meyers said.

The Bluestem group was originally formed to support Trollwood Performing Arts School, a Fargo schools program. TPAS moved to Moorhead a few years ago because flooding at north Fargo’s Trollwood Park made long-term use of that facility untenable.

The Bluestem group had managed to pay the bills to build and run the $15 million facility until last December, when it couldn’t come up with a $286,000 bond payment.

The Fargo School District, which had guaranteed the bonds, then had to step in and pay the bill. That put Bluestem into default on its agreement with the district.

Since Bluestem also no longer had enough money in the bank to run the facility, the school district took over operation of the Bluestem Center.

Johnson suggested that one way to get Bluestem group focused on fundraising is to have them raise

$2 million to $3 million to build a practice stage and a place to construct sets.

Those projects were in the original plans for the Bluestem Center but not built. Bluestem group members say having them would help free up the amphitheatre, making it possible to put on more of the summer concerts it wants to increase revenue.

Meyers also said that it may be time to create a new group to coordinate fund-raising for TPAS and the Bluestem Center. He suggested that the group could include the current Bluestem fundraisers.

However, other group members worried Bluestem officials might feel their work was being usurped.

Johnson said he wants to see the confusion end over who gets paid for events that have been booked. The Bluestem nonprofit has taken some of those payments, perhaps to pay its bills, he said. But the ad hoc group agreed the district needs to get at least enough money from those events to cover the $550 per day it costs to run the facility.

Johnson said that it’s time to make it clear to Bluestem what the school district will accept.

“I think it’s time for a little tough love,” he said.

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

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