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Associated Press, Published May 25 2012

Hotel owners push Bismarck Civic Center expansion

BISMARCK — A group of hotel owners wants to put a measure on the November ballot to expand the Bismarck Civic Center, a project that the city's mayor said could cost $50 million and likely would be paid for largely by out-of-town visitors.

The project would include a large multipurpose room, more meeting rooms and exhibit space, a kitchen facility and a new west-side entrance. The group will take its proposal to the City Commission on June 26.

"The idea of this is to turn it more into a meeting center," businessman Bill Shalhoob told The Bismarck Tribune.

The expansion would be paid for through an increase on the visitors' tax on liquor sales and hotel reservations.

"Most of the tax amount would be coming from people visiting, not Bismarck residents," Shalhoob said.

The city makes $1.2 million per year from the visitors' tax. Mayor John Warford estimated it would take a 1 percent to 2 percent increase to cover the cost of expanding the Civic Center.

The downtown facility has a large arena that hosts everything from sporting events to concerts, and can hold about 10,000 people. It also has a separate exhibit hall. The city has planned to expand the Civic Center for several years but it has been on hold, according to Warford. The cost was estimated at about $35 million four years ago, but it might be as high as $50 million now because of increased construction costs, he said.

The shortcomings of the Civic Center's exhibit areas were apparent this week when organizers of an oil conference that drew thousands of people from around the world ran out of exhibit space, Warford said.

An expansion "will put us on the map as a convention town," he said. "It's time that Bismarck stepped that facility up."

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.