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Published February 15 2014

Forum editorial: Downtown best place for events center

If the Fargodome Authority and Fargo City Commission move ahead with a new events/convention center for the city, it should be built downtown. If the preliminary economics of a downtown location do not compare favorably with a center near the Fargodome in north Fargo, planners should go back to the drawing board to make the numbers work for downtown.

Easier said than done. But downtown’s renaissance is far from over. An events center that incorporates facilities for fine arts performances, conventions and other programs can be a crown jewel in the central district’s rebirth. Coupled with what looks to be a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly City Hall/civic plaza, an events center would be an attractive complement to a project that has been a long time in the making.

An initial study suggests a downtown center would lose money in part because it would cost more to operate than a Fargodome site. At the same time, however, the study concludes the downtown site would attract more events. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear how much money could be raised from sources of revenue such as a slight increase in specialty taxes. Also, the dome’s reserve fund could be tapped, which might reduce overall costs and debt. And because the authority likely would manage a new facility in combination with the Fargodome, operating both in the black might be possible.

Finally, construction this year of a permanent downtown flood wall will give investors assurance their buildings will be protected from high water. More development – urban housing, hotels, retail – will gin up more revenues that can offset event center costs. After all, nearly every projection of sales tax revenues and economic activity generated by the Fargodome has been low.

Certainly the authority and commission must be careful when committing tax dollars to any big project. The record of the past 20 years confirms they have been just that, even as naysayers brayed that the dome would be a white elephant and the renaissance zone would fail. Critics were abysmally wrong on both counts. The good thinking behind those successes should be applied to more public investment downtown. And a downtown events center is an essential element of the long-term vision.

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