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Published September 23 2013

Editorial: Build it and they will come

City officials in North Dakota might prefer to downplay it, but major cities in the state are competitive. That’s especially true of Fargo and Bismarck. The state’s capital city is growing and, as the state’s second city, is in a civil but serious competition with Fargo.

Bismarck has a lot going for it. As the seat of state government its economy has a guaranteed foundation. As the emerging gateway city to the booming Oil Patch, Bismarck is benefiting immensely, not only from economic activity generated by oil, but also by population stimulus. Energy companies that might not have given the city a second look 10 years ago today are establishing offices and other operations staffed by highly paid people.

Add to the economic factors a beautiful natural setting along the Missouri River and a short drive to the Badlands, Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Bismarck is a very attractive place to live and work.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the capital city is charging ahead with expansion of its Civic Center with the expressed purpose of competing with Fargo for conventions. Fargo-Moorhead, while still the premiere North Dakota destination for professional meetings, sports and entertainment events and most conventions, had better pay attention to Bismarck’s ambitious plans.

Fargo convention and visitors officials concede the metro lacks a certain size space suited specifically for medium-sized gatherings. The Fargodome has the happy problem of being so busy that it can’t accommodate some conventions. In order to compete with Bismarck and indeed, nationwide, FM needs another space.

The Bismarck saga is instructive. It took time and behind-the-scenes machinations to move the city to the point where the need to expand the existing center was obvious. Voters didn’t like initial plans (killed 57 percent to 43 percent in a November vote). Competing arena proposals emerged. But pressure put on the city commission by a plethora of interests moved commissioners to press ahead with expansion of the civic.

Fargo is in similar position. Expand the dome with a discreet space designed for conventions? Build a genuine convention center downtown? That debate has yet to heat up.

There is no question about the need for a new space of some kind. If it were built many of the conventions that now bypass the city would gather here. That situation has been confirmed frequently by professionals in the local convention/tourism business.

As Fargo proceeds to build a new City Hall and riverside civic mall, the time is right to incorporate a convention center into the plan. The city should get on with the where, how and when of a new convention center. The sooner the better.

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