Ruhr Development notified the city of Fergus Falls of its intention not to renew the 20-year contract under which they have operated the Bigwood Event Center since 2001.
According to Fergus Falls administrator, Andrew Bremseth the contract will expire in April 2021. At that time the facility will be shut down until the conference and meeting industry is “back on its feet.”
Bremseth said the city does not have any prospects for replacing Ruhr Development but pointed to other models where the city has successfully run the event center space attached to a privately owned hotel. Sleepy Eye is a good example of that and Ruhr Development also happens to own the hotel there.
“There is very little, if any, activity at the event center now due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions,” Bremseth told Daily Journal Media on Monday.
Bremseth said that keeping the Bigwood open during the pandemic does not make financial sense for the city.
“We decided it’s best to wait that out and then give it a go,” Bremseth said. “In the interim, we would like to find a use for the facility that would benefit the community and would not be impacted by the pandemic.”
Finance director Bill Sonmor indicated Monday the city has prepared a budget for the Bigwood if it is not open. The annual costs add up to an estimated $39,500. Two of the largest expenses are electricity ($12,000) and natural gas ($10,000).
“These are just estimates as this is new territory,” Sonmor said.
Jean Bowman of Visit Fergus Falls has worked closely with Ruhr Development and said Ruhr Development still owns and operates the Country Inn and Suites.
Bowman adds that Visit Fergus Falls was a longtime supporter of Ruhr Development’s operations and sales efforts at the Bigwood. Bowman stated that over the past five years Visit Fergus Falls has spent close to $90,000 on marketing and promotions.
“With capacity and gatherings diminished due to COVID-19, businesses have learned to effectively use Zoom and other technology,” Brown said. “Business travel budgets are also severely slashed. We’re hopeful that in the future a viable model for sales and operation may be in place.”
Jeff Ruhr of Ruhr Development was not available for comment. Daily Journal Media was told he was the only spokesman for Ruhr Development.