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Erik Burgess, Published February 27 2014

Dome Authority frustrated Fargo city commissioners have their minds made up on location of proposed convention center

FARGO – Members of the Fargo Dome Authority still haven’t made up their minds about the location for a new convention center – downtown or at the Fargodome.

But they’re frustrated that the City Commission has.

“Every day that goes by, this gets more politicized,” said John Q. Paulsen, a Dome Authority member. “We’ve got city attorneys arguing with each other about whether our reserves can be used. The City Commission people have publicly stated a position on the matter. So, I think we’re on the horns of a dilemma.”

Dome Authority President Deb Mathern said Thursday that she will now approach the City Commission so the two boards can actually sit down and talk.

Part of the problem, she said, is that the two boards have been talking through the media instead of face to face. Mathern said she feels the need to “force the conversation.”

“Just get people in the same room, and get it out there,” she said.

On the heels of a consultant study received earlier this month, the Dome Authority was set to make a convention center site recommendation to the City Commission on Thursday.

Instead, members expressed frustration at two things – that the feasibility study didn’t adequately survey a downtown location and at their apparent futility as a board on this issue.

All five city commissioners have said they prefer a downtown site for the new convention center, despite the fact that the Fargo Dome Authority, an advisory board to the commission, has not yet issued a recommendation.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised by former city attorney Gary Stewart as to whether the dome’s $38 million reserve fund can be used downtown. Stewart believes the city’s Home Rule Charter doesn’t allow that money to leave the North Dakota State University campus, and it would take a 60 percent vote of the public to change the charter.

The report from HVS Conventions Sports and Entertainment Facilities received by the Fargo Dome Authority earlier this month estimated that a convention center attached to the dome would cost about $56.2 million.

The report did not estimate the construction cost for a downtown site.

Dome Authority members said instead of issuing a recommendation on incomplete data, now is the time to go city commissioners and ask them: Do you want us to continue to study the downtown location, or will you do it?

“It’s not good enough that we simply say, ‘We’re Dome Authority members so we want it out here (at the Fargodome).’ We need to look at all the information,” Paulsen said. “I think the study needs to have more work done.”

Dome Authority member Darrell Vanyo said if the City Commission has truly made up its mind, then the Dome Authority might not like the city’s answer.

“Well, let’s ask them and they say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” Vanyo said. “Then I wonder about our effectiveness as board members.”

If the City Commission doesn’t want the Dome Authority to continue studying the issue, Vanyo said the Dome Authority should use the HVS study as is to make a recommendation anyway.

“We can wrap it up in a bow and say our job is done,” he said. “Obviously, we do respect the fact that we answer to them ultimately, but it shouldn’t preclude us from stopping to give our input.”

Vanyo is concerned about putting off a recommendation for too long, but Mathern said she didn’t think waiting a year “would hurt anybody.”

“I just have this feeling that they (the city) have a sense of urgency and are going to start pushing things through … that should not be pushed through that quickly,” she said. “I would really hate to see us get three years down the road and say, ‘Oops, we shouldn’t have put it there.’ ”

Other than frustrating some Dome Authority members, politicization of the issue has sidetracked the authority from dealing with solely Fargodome issues, Mathern said.

That’s where this conversation about more space at the dome originally started a couple of years ago, she said, and it has since ballooned into a convention center debate.

The dome is 21 years old and needs upgrades, General Manager Rob Sobolik said, such as more restrooms, better handicap accessibility in the press box and general seating, upgrades to circulation space, and additional storage space.

For the Dome Authority, that means it can’t afford to spend a large chunk of its $38 million reserve on another building. Mathern asked Sobolik to develop a list of urgent fixes the dome needs.

“That’s our purpose here: looking out for the future of the Fargodome,” Mathern said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518