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Clarence F. “Rick” Olson, Fargo, Published December 15 2012

Letter: A new improved Fargodome

Fargoan Bruce Brovold’s letter, “Fargo should revisit dome vision of late Bob Johnson” (Forum, Dec. 7) piqued my interest because I remember that some 25 years ago, then-Fargo Parks Superintendent Bob Johnson had a dream.

Johnson’s dream

Johnson proposed the building of what eventually became the Fargodome. At the time, he envisioned a 30,000-seat facility similar to the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash. A facility that would be capable of hosting various events, including baseball, basketball, football, hockey and the many other events that have been held at the Fargodome over the past two decades.

A formal proposal for the project, Johnson’s brainchild, was introduced in 1987. The original proposal underwent a number of tweaks.

A ballot measure to authorize construction of the dome went before the people of Fargo in April 1989. Voters approved a half-percent municipal sales tax, with the revenue going toward repaying the bonds that were used to build the Fargodome. Architects were then hired, and the construction process began. The dome opened to the public on Dec. 2, 1992.

Football success

The primary tenant is the North Dakota State University Bison football team. With the NDSU football program enjoying the success it has been enjoying, and given the fact that most of its games are sold out, can the current arrangement be a sustainable proposition long term?

Will there come a time that the NDSU Bison will have done everything they can do in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)? That time may come sooner than many realize.

The logical progression would then be a move toward an entry of the Bison into the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). This would put the program into the same class as the major college football programs in the United States, including Big 10 schools such as Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

New facility needed?

The question would then be raised about facilities that are available in order to allow the Bison to make such a transition. There are none. Could the Fargodome be expanded? Theoretically speaking, the Fargodome could be expanded. It’s easier said than done.

It appears the Fargodome could be expanded and perhaps a second and third ring of seats added to the building. Such a project would put the facility out of commission for at least one, if not two, years while the building underwent a major remake. Given the magnitude and scope of such a project, a new separate facility might be suggested.

Most major college football programs play their home games in larger stadiums. If the Bison were to jump to the FBS, the team would need a larger stadium to play in. Competing at the FBS level is very expensive, and NDSU would need additional revenue streams in place because of the higher costs.

I envision that a new stadium may have to perhaps be in the 30,000-to-50,000-seat range. As a comparison, TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Twin Cities, holds about 50,000.

Questions to consider

It would be an uphill climb for the Board of Higher Education and NDSU to request funding from the state for such a facility. Even with North Dakota’s budget surplus and excellent financial future, I doubt the Legislature would agree to pay for even part of a new stadium. Therefore, a private-public partnership would be necessary.

Would a new stadium be an open air facility or would it be a domed facility (fixed or retractable roof)? Would a new stadium be built for the sole purpose of the NDSU Bison playing home football games there? Or would such a facility become a multiple-use sports and entertainment center, and become a replacement for the dome?

At some point down the road, if such a project were to even get that far, the people of Fargo would likely be asked to approve a city sales tax in order to pay for at least part of a new building. Under the city charter, a 60 percent margin of approval is required on any municipal sales tax measure. That would be a tough sell in today’s economy and political climate.

Conclusion

I think Brovold might be on to something. The time may be right for some of the movers and shakers of the community to engage the various entities into a colloquy of sorts on the long-term sustainability of the Fargodome.


Olson is a contributor to The Forum’s commentary and opinion pages. Email rickolson@cableone.net