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Kangas steps down as Holmes CEO

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Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
Kangas steps down as Holmes CEO
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

It's the end of an era for the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center.

Arlen Kangas has stepped down as chief executive officer of Holmes Center, Inc., which runs the community center.


Kangas, president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp., oversaw the community center from its inception in 2001.

He stepped down as a Holmes Center, Inc. board member earlier, as part of a process to make the community center more independent.

Holmes Center, Inc. started off as a subsidiary of the MMCDC, which guaranteed its profitability for the first five years and recently extended that guarantee another five years.

Kangas, who will continue at the helm of the MMCDC, said the MMCDC will continue to appoint two of the Holmes Center, Inc.'s seven board members. (Two others are appointed by the city, one by the school district and two more by the Holmes Center Board itself).

Stu Omberg, chief financial officer for the community center, is the new interim CEO, according to Dennis Winskowski, chairman of the Holmes Center Board. A permanent CEO should be named by the end of the year, he added.

Holmes Center, Inc. manages the community center under an operating agreement with the City of Detroit Lakes, which owns the facility.

"His (Kangas') departure was part of a plan to let Holmes Center, Inc. establish itself as an independent nonprofit organization," Winskowski said.

Kangas has been a great asset to the community center, and was instrumental in getting it built, he added. "This would never have happened without Arlen's involvement ... The facility would never be here today without Arlen's commitment in getting the project started and completed."

The MMCDC has had to give the community center two big cash infusions -- $250,000 to offset construction costs when it was built, and another $225,000 this year to stabilize a bond guarantee fund held by the city.

"So it hasn't been without some pain on our part," Kangas said. "Still, we're in the business of providing community support. Our board has been very accommodating about meeting the needs of the community."

But for the most part, the community center's operating budget has been in the black each year.

The fitness side of the operation is where the revenue is generated.

The BTD Aquatics Center includes an eight-lane competitive pool with zero-depth entry and handicap access lift and diving board; a nine-person hot tub spa; sauna; and 133-foot water slide.

The DLCCC Fieldhouse includes a gymnasium with two full-size basketball courts that can double as tennis and volleyball courts.

Upstairs, there is an indoor, three-lane walking and running track; over 20 pieces of stabilized weight equipment; a free weight area; and more than 30 pieces of cardio equipment.

"It (the community center) has a very attractive design, friendly staff and affordable prices," Kangas said. "We've captured a greater market share than similar facilities in similar-sized cities would have. The average is 6 percent. We're closer to 9 percent."

The popularity of the fitness side helps support the 4,900 square feet of the community center that is located in the former Holmes School. That space is occupied by the senior center, a daycare, the Lakes Area Learning Center, offices, and a theater and ballroom complex.

"They don't generate significant income," Kangas said. "That's why there has to be an active fund-raising side to the operation."

Kangas credited the community center board of directors for its success.

"What we did differently (from other cities) was in design -- it was designed to operate efficiently ... We had very, very high expectations of making sure it operates efficiently. We've tried to minimize overhead and operating costs. None of it has been easy."

The community center board has benefited from members "who are top-notch business people," Kangas said, pointing to Mike Herzog, Jay Meacham, Paul White, Dixie Johnson and Winskowski, who is publisher of DL Newspapers. While Kangas and Meacham tended to mostly sit back and listen, the others were not so reserved, Kangas said.

"We could have sold tickets to those early board meetings, they were so entertaining," he said. "There were enormous battles over the size of the pool, for example -- whether it should be a competitive pool or a leisure pool ... We decided to do both."

The planning and fund-raising for a community center actually date to the late 1990s, when city voters rejected a sales tax hike needed to fund the project.

"People in favor were pretty demoralized over that," Kangas said. "Some people had worked on that for 25 years."

The MMCDC, city and county chipped in on a $100,000 feasibility study that showed the center could be built with private donations and grants.

That laid the foundation for a successful fund-raising campaign, run by Terry Eiter, who also served for a time as Holmes Center CEO in the early years.

Former State Rep. Roxann Daggett had earlier managed to earmark $1.5 million toward a Detroit Lakes community center. "That was absolutely critical," Kangas said.

"The mayor had the vision and the city council members were willing to support his vision for the city ... it was the analogy of the perfect storm, but in reverse. I'm not sure it could happen today in the current environment."

Today, the Detroit Lakes community center is well thought of by other city officials around Minnesota.

"We get visitors from all over the state," Kangas said. "Many communities throughout the state look at what Detroit Lakes has and do it with great envy."