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Clarence F. “Rick” Olson, Fargo, Published May 18 2013

Letter: Is Fargodome adequate for future?

I asked recently whether Fargo needs a new stadium for North Dakota State University Bison football. Or, in the alternative, whether a new multipurpose events center to replace the Fargodome needs to be built. Either would potentially give NDSU the flexibility to perhaps one day pursue a move to the premiere NCAA Division I football level of competition.

Around the region

Voters in Bismarck during the Nov. 6 general election said no to a

$70 million expansion of the city-owned 10,000-seat Civic Center. Bismarck city leaders and members of the business community there have been discussing the possibility of a larger events center for some time.

It’s generally been agreed that a new facility for Bismarck may be needed to remain competitive with Fargo and Grand Forks, which have the facilities necessary to host major concerts and other events. However, there has been no agreement upon the means that would be necessary to accomplish that task.

With construction underway in Rapid City, S.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., on new multipurpose events centers for those two cities, it may be time for Fargo to consider whether the Fargodome can continue to attract the events. The dome turns 22 years old this year and is beginning to show signs of its age.

Bison football success

The Fargodome’s primary tenant is Bison football. With the football program enjoying success, and the fact that most of NDSU’s games are sold out, can the current arrangement be a sustainable proposition long term?

Given the success of the Bison football program in recent years, some have said the logical progression would be a move toward a jump of the Bison from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Gene Taylor, the NDSU athletic director, was asked this very question on a Fargo radio talk show. While Taylor didn’t specifically address such a move, he also did not rule out the possibility of the Bison making the jump someday.

New facility needed?

The question would then be raised about facilities that are available in order to allow the Bison to make a transition. The Fargodome could be expanded, theoretically speaking, but it’s easier said than done. Such a project would put the facility out of commission for at least one, if not two, years while the building underwent a remake. Given the magnitude of such a project, a new separate facility might be suggested.

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

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 of almost entirely locally generated funds would be necessary.

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 provisions of the city’s home rule 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.

The time may be right to bring this subject to the forefront and engage the various entities into a discussion on the long-term sustainability of the Fargodome.


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