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Erik Burgess, Published January 20 2014

Fargo commissioners seek flexibility in management of publicly owned event centers

FARGO – City leaders here say flexibility is the key to managing the city’s large, publicly owned event centers.

The issue was raised at Monday night’s commission meeting when commissioners decided to give Global Spectrum – which manages the Fargodome – a series of three one-year contract renewals instead of a single three-year renewal.

The one-year contracts for 2014, 2015 and 2016 can be terminated by the city at the end of each year with a 90-day notice.

Rob Sobolik, manager of the Fargodome and a Global Spectrum employee, said they would have preferred a long-term renewal.

“To have a contract that can be canceled at will with a 90-day notice is a little disadvantageous to Global Spectrum from a business continuity standpoint but also to the Global Spectrum employees at the facility for just a security or certainty standpoint,” he told commissioners.

Global Spectrum is an event center management company with headquarters in Philadelphia. It has managed the Fargodome since 2003, and 20 full-time Global Spectrum employees work at the dome.

But with a new city convention center possible in the near future, city commissioners said it all comes down to having “flexibility,” a word that was repeated a half-dozen times by at least three commissioners.

“One of the things we’re looking at is flexibility to possibly look at all the facilities that the city has, to see if there’s some efficiencies or some potential to manage them under one roof,” said City Commissioner Mike Williams.

City officials commissioned a study last year to explore the city’s needs for more convention space. The study should be done in early February, said Deb Mathern, president of the Fargo Dome Authority.

Acting on a suggestion from Mathern, city commissioners directed staff to set up a committee to look at the best way for the city to manage its publicly owned event centers.

For Commissioner Tim Mahoney, it’s about the city using all of its assets to their full potential.

With one group managing the Fargodome and the Fargo Civic Center, for example, events could be split between the two venues with city buses used to connect, he said.

“If we put the Civic Center and the Fargodome together, we may have better utilization of our areas and better utilization of our people,” Mahoney said.

Ever since conversations began last year about construction of at a new City Hall, city leaders have been considering what to do with the Civic Center adjacent to City Hall. One option was to gut the facility and turn it into the new City Hall. The city could also decide to renovate it and make it part of a new convention center.

“We’re trying to save the Civic Auditorium,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Mahoney thinks combining management for city-owned event centers could help them accomplish that.

“The intent is not anything to do with Global Spectrum,” Mahoney said, referring to the annual contract renewal. “The intent is to have that flexibility with the Civic Center to do what we need to do.”

Mathern said she didn’t know if Global Spectrum would accept the new contract. Mahoney said so-called “evergreen” contracts, or continual one-year contracts with 90-day termination notices, are fairly standard.

“Of course, we want to work well with Global Spectrum,” Mathern said. “They’ve been a good company for us, and yet we want to do what’s best for the city of Fargo also.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518