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Erik Burgess, Published December 10 2012

Moorhead considers leasing land near Bluestem to Fargo Schools

MOORHEAD – Land abutting the Bluestem Center for the Arts here could soon be leased to Fargo Public Schools, but some Moorhead City Council members are concerned about keeping the arts center a “regional” venue.

A roughly 50-acre parcel of land to the west and south of the arts center has been in question for weeks, as it is technically contracted to Bluestem, the struggling nonprofit that will soon officially dissolve and is trying to settle its assets.

The council voted Monday to have that contract for deed terminated as soon as possible so they can begin negotiations with Fargo Public Schools, which has expressed interest in leasing some of that land for overflow parking and other miscellaneous uses during the Trollwood season.

However, some language in a 2013 Trollwood business plan sent to the council has members concerned that the venue – which was in part paid for by a $5.5 million Minnesota grant – will not have balanced offerings for both cities if Fargo begins a new lease on another part of the site.

For example, the business plan states the center is “owned and operated” by Fargo Public Schools.

“They do not own this facility and never will own this facility,” Councilman Mark Altenburg said. “If that was done on purpose, it’s a real poke in the eye.”

The center’s Marcil Commons is owned by the city of Moorhead, council members said. The project site, including the amphitheater, is on a long-term lease to the Fargo Public Schools.

Also in the business plan, council members noted that Trollwood has changed the site’s name from the “Bluestem Center for the Arts,” to the “Trollwood Performing Arts Center.”

“We have something that Fargo doesn’t have. We have Bluestem,” Councilwoman Heidi Durand said. “And it’s pretty clear they want it.”

In a Dec. 7 letter to the council, Superintendent Jeff Schatz says he envisions the center as a “viable asset to our communities.”

“I look forward to our continued conversations as we partner with the City of Moorhead to ensure that we can expand our focus and use this site as was originally intended – a regional arts center,” he wrote.

But council members said that has yet to be seen.

“I’m not sure that that capability exists or that it’s a top priority for them,” Councilman Mark Hintermeyer said.

As part of the resolution passed Monday, the City Council will meet with the Fargo Board of Education in early 2013 to discuss the Trollwood program, operation of the site and future governance issues.

“I do want a partnership,” Altenburg said. “I’m just disturbed by some of the language I’m getting. I’m not quite sure what the intention of Fargo Public Schools is.”

City Manager Michael Redlinger said that if Bluestem’s contract for deed is terminated, the $318,055 in special assessments that the nonprofit did not pay off would be deferred, meaning they’d stay on the city’s books and be paid by whoever buys the property, or perhaps be part of a lease agreement.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518