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Published June 02 2012

Forum editorial: Trollwood rent part of the fix

One fact has been overlooked in all of the public drama over the financial struggle plaguing the Bluestem Center for the Arts and its main tenant, Trollwood Performing Arts School, a theatrical instruction program of the Fargo Public Schools. Until recently, Trollwood didn’t pay Bluestem to rent its stage.

That’s an important point to bear in mind as the Fargo schools and Bluestem come to terms over the performing arts center’s multimillion dollar debt. Trollwood’s friendly terms stem from the fact that Fargo schools provided $2.7 million in interest-free loans to Bluestem.

The School Board recently moved to pay off $2.1 million in bonds in return for assuming full control of Bluestem’s lease rights. Left unresolved is another $2.7 million in debt taken on by Fargo schools to finish construction on the $15 million facility in south Moorhead.

In effect, Trollwood pays rent to Bluestem only if Bluestem fundraising falls short or comes in late. That happened for the first time last December, requiring the schools to pay $285,000, half the yearly $570,000 it owes if fundraising fails to come through. But January contributions enabled a refund to the schools of $170,000.

In short, it’s a complicated agreement, but favorable in rental terms to Trollwood and Fargo schools.

Free rent is not an option for school hockey programs, however. The tab adds up to almost $103,500 a year to rent ice time. Paying for ice time, in fact, is a major reason why hockey is the most expensive high school activity, in the cost per student: $1,946 for girls hockey and $1,819 for boys hockey. By comparison, the per-student cost for participation at Trollwood last year was $503, or less than a third of the cost for hockey.

Since Trollwood reserves Bluestem for much of the summer season, it’s fair to expect the schools would pay to help support the facility. Roughly half of Trollwood’s revenues come from Fargo schools, with the rest from admissions, program fees and supporters.

Given Bluestem’s need to find a path to financial sustainability, revisiting Trollwood’s rental terms can be an important part of the package. If Trollwood paid regular rent it would provide a revenue stream to help pay off Bluestem’s debt – and help bring an unpleasant financial drama to an end.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.