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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 18 2010

Scheel: ‘Merry Christmas, NDSU’

North Dakota State University got 5 million steps closer to the renovation of its Bison Sports Arena on Friday morning.

Scheels CEO Steve Scheel announced a $5 million donation to the project, which has been in the works for a decade.

The donation is a big boost toward the university’s $32 million arena fund drive and comes on the heels of a $10 million donation for the project from Sanford Health in September.

It’s also the second major community donation for Scheels this fall. In October, Scheels obtained naming rights to the Urban Plains Center. The amount of that donation has not been disclosed.

Friday’s announcement was the latest in a string of facility enhancements by both Scheels and Sanford. When the NDSU arena is finished, people will have the option to go to:

Investment in health and wellness programs, economic development efforts and educational initiatives and institutions are all part of Sanford’s goals in a community, Sanford CEO Kelby Krab­benhoft said in September.

Despite Friday’s $5 million donation announcement, there’s still a ways to go before the Bison Sports Arena renovation is a reality – about $17 million, according to the NDSU Development Foundation.

The 5,700-seat arena, which includes an adjoining basketball practice facility, will cost close to $30 million. A separate eight-lane indoor track and field facility is about $5 million, and an additional $2.8 million is earmarked toward the football office and locker room complex at the Fargodome.

Of the almost $38 million, about $6 million came from the “Momentum” fundraising drive of a few years ago, leaving $32 million for the current “Building The Competitive Edge” campaign.

“I’m blown away. This doesn’t happen everywhere,” said NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips. “I’m fortunate to be at a place where people get it.”

The arena portion will be called the Scheels Center while the entire project, which includes a separate indoor track and field facility, will be called the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.

NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said no construction date has been set. But he said the project is on an aggressive schedule.

“I guess it would be appropriate to say, ‘Merry Christmas, NDSU,’ ” Scheel said. “We’re pleased to allow NDSU take a major step to a wonderful venue.”

Scheel was sitting in the cold and snow of the NDSU at Eastern Washington Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff game in Cheney, Wash., last weekend when a warm thought hit him: the distance of the school’s Division I move in such a short time.

Taylor, similarly, likened Scheels’ business growth to that of NDSU’s, and he recalled a lunch meeting several years ago.

“I had been here maybe a couple of years,” said Taylor, in his ninth year. “He laid out his vision of an all-sports store program, and he told me he liked the direction NDSU is going … with Division I.”

Athletic venue donation not first for Scheels

The $5 million donation from Scheels CEO Steve Scheel to North Dakota State University for the renovation of the Bison Sports Arena on Friday was Scheels’ second foray into an athletic venue in three months. The first, the purchase of the naming rights to the Urban Plains Center in October, is still an undisclosed amount.

The Fargo Park District owns the arena and the Metro Sports Foundation operates it, said Jim Larson, director of finance and human resources for the Park District.

Metro Sports Foundation board member Al Hintz declined to give the amount of sale, saying it was done in confidentiality. He said Metro Sports is a nonprofit and therefore is not required to publically disclose the cost.

He said Metro Sports is looking for a second partner to run in conjunction with the Scheels purchase. Larson said the agreement with Metro Sports Foundation is such that the Park District “doesn’t own the organization” and has no financial records of it.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970).

He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia