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Published November 26 2010

Forum editorial: ‘Goose’ has reason to smile …

Somewhere out there, Bob “Goose” Johnson is smiling. The late superintendent of Fargo parks was the visionary behind the wildly successful Fargodome. One of the elements of his vision that was never realized during his life was a Bison football playoff game. The Bison were in playoff games as a Division II team but never in the dome. Saturday, the playoff drought ends as the Bison play their first ever playoff game as a Division I team in the 19,000-seat dome.

It would have been especially fitting if Goose had lived to see it. He retired in 1996 and died in 2002.

A segment of Fargo’s population takes the dome for granted. It’s been on the campus at North Dakota State University for 17 years – a lifetime for many Fargoans. They could not know, unless they did a little archival research, the intensity of the effort in the late 1980s and early ’90s to fund it and build it. They could not know that Johnson’s impossible dream became reality in large part because he would not let go of the notion that a big multipurpose arena/dome/sports stadium would change the city.

Johnson was known as an “idea man.” That was a polite way of saying he had big ideas and an expansive vision of the possible but was not one to follow through with the details. True enough. But once Johnson convinced the detail people the idea was a good one, his dream began to take shape. His sometimes frenetic enthusiasm for the dome project energized the city’s other movers and shakers. The project moved forward with designs, schematics, models and mockups. Architects and engineers chimed in with their proposals. Capacity and flexibility were incorporated into the proposed building.

Funding required a special city sales tax, which won voter approval by better than 60 percent. Fargo never looked back. The impressive structure rose out of the ground, surprising nearly everyone with its size and imposing architecture, inside and out.

The naysayers were wrong from the get-go. Not only has the dome been one of the most attractive and successful big-event venues in the region, it has operated in the black from the day it opened its doors in 1993. It has been the primary stimulus for commercial development adjacent to the NDSU campus in north Fargo. It has hosted some of the biggest acts in entertainment. Attendance at NDSU football games skyrocketed when the team began playing in the dome. Smart management of tax revenues and other income funded improvements and upgrades through the years.

The only event missing was a Bison post-season game. Saturday, that dubious record will end. NDSU will host a team from Pennsylvania in the first round of Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. It will be a history-making day. We’d like to believe Goose Johnson feels pretty good about that.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.