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Jim Johnson, Fargo, Published June 13 2012

Bluestem Center begins to bloom

The Bluestem Center has received a lot of media attention recently and, as the late Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “And now for the rest of the story.”

The center is not in financial trouble, nor is it in jeopardy of being closed. In fact, it is just in the beginning stages of becoming the world-class arts center that was envisioned by its supporters more than a decade ago.

The current media firestorm, in my opinion, is a result of two things:

• The Bluestem organization’s inability to raise sufficient funds last year to service the debt obligations that they and Fargo Public Schools are responsible for.

• Political posturing by some elected officials and candidates seeking to garner public support for their own political purposes.

Up until March 1 of this year, the center has been managed as per the operating agreement between Fargo Public Schools and FutureBuilders (who renamed their corporation the Bluestem Center for the Arts Inc.). Prior to this past December, FutureBuilders (Bluestem Inc.) had paid all the operating costs of the center and made all the debt payments relating to the loans that were used for the construction of the facility on time. Unfortunately, they were unable to make their December 2011 semi-annual loan payment. Fargo Public Schools made the loan payment as per our obligation guaranteeing its repayment.

Their inability to make the payment resulted in Fargo schools having to assume operational control and responsibility for the center. For the short term, Fargo schools, as per our lease agreement with the city of Moorhead, will assume all operational costs for the center. As we work toward a new facility management plan, we are committed to making sure the doors remain open for both the Trollwood program and other area arts organizations.

We are in ongoing discussions with the Bluestem organization to determine our respective roles and responsibilities going forward. Now that the election “silly season” is over, we will be engaging other potential stakeholders in the metro area to create a new governance structure for the long-term operation of the center.

The decision the school board recently made to pay off the school district’s obligations relating to the outstanding construction loan has been characterized by some as “flipping the bill to the Fargo taxpayers.” In fact, the reality is just the opposite. This action not only protected the previous investment by Fargo taxpayers and the donors who made gifts in support of Trollwood, it actually saved the district and our taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in future interest costs for which we would otherwise have been liable.

Our ultimate goal remains unchanged, that being to use the center for the home of the Trollwood Performing Arts School and help to develop it into one of the finest performing arts centers in the nation.

Johnson was elected Tuesday to a fourth term on the Fargo School Board.