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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 03 2010

NDSU turns its focus to renovation of Bison Sports Arena

The addition to the Fargodome is out. A complete overhaul to the Bison Sports Arena making it a basketball-only facility is in.

At least that’s the direction the North Dakota State athletic department is headed. And fundraising for the project, once on life support because of the struggling economy, is being revived. NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said the school has had conversations with several potential donors, including Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Taylor called it a “get to know them” meeting to gauge if there’s interest from the medical corporate giant, which recently merged with MeritCare in Fargo. One thing is certain: Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, a native of Northwood, N.D., already knows plenty about NDSU.

“Kelby has such deep roots in Fargo and the North Dakota region, it’s natural for us to begin those dialogues,” said Mark Johnston, vice president of corporate communications for Sanford. “That’s what we do.”

Asked if Sanford is close to making a commitment to the BSA, Johnston said, “I can’t speak to that. We’re into building relationships and that’s important.”

Essentially, the BSA would be gutted with the exception of the outer shell and the west concourse. That would be merged with a new concourse built around the other three sides of the basketball court. Along with an adjacent weight training facility and new office space, Taylor estimated the cost at $32 million.

The trigger, of course, is fundraising. Taylor said the priority is an unspecified lead gift, and asked if that would be more than $10 million, he said “that number and then some.” All funds would be externally raised.

It’s possible the project could be done in phases, thus increasing the likelihood of starting construction earlier. It’s also dependent on approval from the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.

NDSU’s focus as late as 2008 was to build an addition to the dome in conjunction with the Fargo Dome Authority, which said it would pay for half of the approximate $30 million project out of its reserve fund. A detailed drawing showed the arena would sprout from the southeast corner of the dome.

No longer.

The momentum now is to build a 200-meter indoor track facility in space that is currently occupied by tennis courts west of old Dacotah Field. The new building, which Taylor pegged at about $4.5 to $5 million and is included in the estimated $32 million, would also include practice facilities for softball and baseball, Taylor said.

It would have enough seating to accommodate The Summit League Indoor Track & Field Championships, which NDSU hosted Sunday and Monday. Moreover, it would free up the BSA solely for basketball.

The BSA is slated for renovation anyway and about $8 million has already been raised, although some of those funds have been spent on the current arena such as a new scoreboard. If NDSU decided to keep the BSA a multi-purpose venue with track and basketball together, the cost would be about $27 million, Taylor said.

If NDSU and Sanford do financially mix, there are plenty of connections. Krabbenhoft, a good friend of NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips, was at the Bison-Western Illinois game last Saturday. Also in attendance was former professional golfer Andy North, also a good friend of Phillips and the chair of the Sanford Children’s International Board.

“NDSU is a great organization and a great school,” Johnston said. “And now that Sanford and MeritCare is the leading employer, it’s important for us to have relationships with folks like the school.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546