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Sanford Center and Bemidji Off to a Good Start

Kim Powell | Staff Writer | 03/23/2011 

Since the opening of the Sanford Center in October, it has impacted many local businesses during event days.

“I believe that there has been a significant, positive impact on the Bemidji community,” said Bob LeBarron, the executive director of the Sanford Center.
The Sanford Center has hosted many events since its opening, such as BSU men’s and women’s hockey games, Larry the Cable Guy, Blake Shelton and Atmosphere [see page 8 for an interview with Slug from Atmosphere].
“On a number of busy weekends,” said LeBarron, “hotel rooms across town have been booked full.”
According to Anthony Dahl, front desk supervisor at the Hampton Inn (the hotel next to the event center), about 95 percent of event nights, the hotel is booked to capacity.
“With this influx of visitors, it has had the resulting effect of keeping restaurants and bars busy before and after [hockey] games,” said LeBarron.
Both the Toasty Beaver Sport’s Bar and Grill and Keg-N-Cork offer shuttle rides to and from the Sanford Center on event nights.
“We give away a free drink if they ride the bus to and from the hockey games. I think it’s given us an opportunity,” said Chris Hunt, manager of the Toasty Beaver Sport’s Bar and Grill. “I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened with the old facility necessarily, but being that it’s new it has created a lot of excitement and increased our capacity, it’s had a positive impact, I think.”
According to Mitch Rautio, the owner of Keg-N-Cork, the Irish pub-like bar gets up to 30-40 people in for food and a beer before the games and concerts.
“I know a lot of people were worried with the effects of the citizens with the taxes,” said Hunt. “I think it’s helped us just from the stand point of [Toasty Beaver].”
Calculations on the economic statistics since the opening of the Sanford Center have not been determined as of yet.
“This will be difficult to measure and we will have to look over a longer term at sales receipts, hotel occupancy, and similar data to measure our success,” said Bemidji City Manager John Chattin.
According to LeBarron, statistics will be calculated after the event center has been open for a full year.
“Shopping in the city increases as far as gas stations, convenience stores, fast food and coffee houses, etc.,” said LeBarron. “Of course, many of these purchases add to the City sales taxes and collected on these items as well.”
Ticket sales have more than tripled from last year with $241,000 to a projected $900,000 this year, according to Bill Maki, BSU Vice President for Finance and Administration. Advertising and promotion revenue for hockey has also increased by $150,000. The average attendance for men’s games have increased from 2,100 last year to 3,820 this year.
“Preliminary, [the Sanford Center] has been very good for the financial sustainability of our men’s hockey program,” said Maki.
Overall, the Sanford Center projects that about 156,000 people will attend events in 2011. This includes: 58,000 for BSU hockey, 15,000 for concerts, 36,000 for high school sports, 23,000 for other arena events and 24,000 for events in the conference center portion, according to Maki.
Several BSU men’s hockey games have been sold out, as well as the Atmosphere concert that was held on February 23. The Sanford Center has also hosted a Blake Shelton concert and Larry the Cable Guy. Many other events are to appear in the coming months, such as The Harlem Globetrotters.
“Although I have not done my formal studies or collected any figures as of yet,” said LeBarron, “I can confidently state that attendance at the facility has had an economic impact on the community.”