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Erik Burgess, Published January 14 2013

Moorhead fails to approve lease for land near Bluestem

MOORHEAD – The “shouting match” over the Bluestem Center for the Arts continued on Monday night as the City Council here was unable to approve a lease to Fargo Public Schools for land abutting the south Moorhead arts center.

The Moorhead City Council debated the lease issue for two hours before tabling the matter, unable to approve a lease for 32.9 acres of a 50-arce parcel to the west and south of the Bluestem Center for the Arts, space that the Fargo School District said they wish to continue using for overflow parking.

That 50-acre parcel of land has been in question for some time. It was originally contracted to Bluestem, the nonprofit that late last year was in the process of dissolving. The council voted in December to terminate the contract for deed with Bluestem for that 50-acre parcel so they could begin lease negotiations with Fargo.

But again the issue of the site being maintained as a “regional arts center” came to the forefront of the debate Monday.

Council members have complained about the matter for weeks, some saying that because Fargo Public Schools has taken over the site that it will not be used as designated in the state grant that helped build it.

“State law says Trollwood must be available to regional state arts groups,” Councilwoman Brenda Elmer said Monday.

Councilman Mike Hulett said he took issue with his fellow council members’ concerns.

“There is a huge, well-known regional arts center occupying and using the site. It’s called the Trollwood Performing Arts School,” Hulett said.

Other council members had concerns about specifics of the new lease, which makes the Fargo School District responsible for general taxes and $213,097 in special assessments on the 32.9 acres, but the district would only pay one dollar in rent annually for the 31.5 year lease.

“I can’t vote for an agreement that gives access to a half a million dollars of property for 35 dollars,” Altenburg said.

Altenburg requested the lease be adjusted so the district pays $17,000 a year for the land, possibly as an in-kind donation for a scholarship fund to help children in the Moorhead School District attend Trollwood classes.

Hulett and Councilman Luther Stueland voted against tabling the motion. Stueland said the issue has turned into a “shouting match.”

“I wish we’d tone it down a little bit. I think the proposed lease with the Fargo Public Schools is reasonable,” Stueland said. “Do I wish we were involved in this at all? No. It’s a shame that we are.”

Before discussing the lease, the council voted to approve the school district’s $1.5 million budget for the arts facility. The city’s other lease with the school district – one for the arts venue itself including the outdoor amphitheater – has a provision in it requiring Moorhead to authorize a budget for the facility.

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