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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 07 2012

Progress seen in talks on Bluestem

FARGO – Representatives of the Fargo School Board and Bluestem Center for the Arts board of directors found broad agreement on key issues for how the south Moorhead facility should be operated.

The groups met Thursday at school district offices and will now try to get their larger boards to give the go-ahead in those areas, school board President Jim Johnson said.

Among the areas of agreement:

E A governing council should be created to oversee the Bluestem Center. The council would include not only Bluestem board and Fargo School Board members but potentially representatives of the city of Moorhead, Moorhead School District, local colleges, other arts groups and the general public.

Johnson said a model that “works quite well” is the Fargo Dome Authority, which oversees the Fargodome.

E Hiring a professional facility manager or management firm to handle the scheduling and day-to-day operations of the facility.

The Fargo School District is now acting as the facility manager.

E Having the Bluestem group focus on fundraising for the Bluestem Center and the district’s summer arts program, Trollwood Performing Arts School, rather than operating and scheduling the facility.

Johnson said he hopes that there’s true agreement that Bluestem “wants their hat to be fundraising. Obviously, everyone wants the facility to grow and prosper.”

Johnson said he wants the groups to have an agreement by the end of June.

Bluestem board President Dave Olig said the discussions moved the process forward on governance and managing the $15 million arts facility.

“We’ve been very, very close for a very long time,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting a concrete plan. And that’s the direction we’re moving.”

Bluestem fundraisers were unable to make a $285,000 bond payment in December, forcing the school district to make the payment because it was a guarantor for the bonds.

Since then, the district has paid the costs to run the facility and will make the June bond payment.

The Bluestem group has said it likely will be unable to pay the $2.1 million remaining bond debt on the facility. The group has also said it won’t be able to raise funds to pay back the school district for a $2.7 million construction loan.

The school board recently voted to pay off the bonded debt to trim interest costs. That also gives it the option to take over the Bluestem group’s lease rights, meaning the district would have full legal rights for operating and scheduling the facility.

Bluestem board members worry the school board’s decision to pay off the bonded debt would leave them frozen out of decision-making at the arts center if the district assumes the lease rights.

School board member Rick Steen said having an agreement by Aug. 1 is important for both groups, because the agreements between the groups end with the payment of the bonds for the center.

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