Fargo Civic Center ‘in limbo’ as venue loses $2.2 million in 15 years – InForum

FARGO — Historic posters hung in the lobby of the Fargo Civic Center show ticket prices for performances by comedian George Gobel, singer Johnny Mathis and actress and singer Dorothy Lamour on ‘Hello Dolly!’ in the range of $3 to $5.

Those early ticket prices and nationwide shows at the 61-year-old entertainment and sporting event facility next to Fargo City Hall are long gone, and use of the facility is dwindling. has faded, especially in recent years.

The much larger Fargodome attracts many major sporting and entertainment events, as seating in the Civic Center is around 3,000 for shows and only 1,500 for basketball tournaments.

Numerous other entertainment venues have also sprung up in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area over the past 10-15 years, moving events away from the aging civic center as well.

Rob Sobolik, whose duties focus heavily on operating the Fargodome and who for the past few years has been tasked with overseeing the Civic Center, said the facility was “in limbo.”

Deputy City Administrator Mike Redlinger called it a “holding pattern.”

Keeping the building operational for what Sobolik called “very limited events” is a money-losing proposition, he said.

The establishment ran deficits for 15 years, although the pandemic shut down entertainment venues everywhere in 2020 and 2021.

According to city figures, the last time the Fargo Civic Center turned a profit was in 2006, when the venue brought in $24,196.

In the early years, it was a money maker with marquee events that included John Denver, Snoop Dogg, Fargo’s Jonny Lang, and the North Dakota State Class B Basketball Tournaments.

Over the past 15 years, ongoing losses totaled $2.2 million, according to city reports, including $450,000 in 2019 when a major maintenance project was completed.

In recent years, losses have amounted to more than $100,000 per year, with the largest expenses being the administrator, secretary and two building maintenance employees, as well as energy expenses for heating and building air conditioning.

There have been good years of revenue over the past 15 years, but events have continued to decline and expenses have continued to exceed cash inflows.

With the retirement in 2019-20 of the administrator, secretary and one of the two maintenance employees, the loss was the lowest in 8 years at $102,341 for 2021. That was the lowest since 2013, when there was a loss of $88,079.

A 2015 study of the facility looked at options for new uses such as renovating it into a performing arts center or demolishing and rebuilding it.

Report results from Chicago-based HVS, Schuler Shook and JLG Architects found that both options would cost about the same in the $50 million or more range, although those costs are certainly much higher now. .

A committee formed in 2019 favored the option of demolishing the Civic Center and replacing it with a new, more modern performing arts center.

Mayor Tim Mahoney said a consultant was working on the possibility of financial support from private donors to pay at least half or more of the construction costs of a newly constructed performing arts center.

The consultancy found that about $30 million to $35 million could likely be raised in private funds, although Mahoney said some other fundraising projects in the city have exceeded initial goals.

Preliminary plans are to start raising funds for the performing arts center in earnest next year, he said. This could be followed by a question on the ballot about raising the rest of the funding.

With a City Commission election coming up, that decision would likely be made by elected officials in June.

Other options are still on the table, city officials said.

City Commissioner John Strand said he was unconvinced by the idea of ​​building the performing arts center and locating it there, despite being a strong supporter of the arts in the city.

He was co-chair of the committee that looked into the possibility of the performing arts center and said that despite a majority in favor of building it on the site of the Civic Center, it was not unanimous. He also wondered if a performing arts center could be financially viable.

So Strand said he’d like to see the public’s comments and ideas on other options for the Civic Center, which he called a “city asset.”

“The mindset of some is that it’s gone,” he said. “In my mind, though, I’d like to see what creative uses might surface. I’d like to see us engage the community. Maybe there are other actors on the radar.”

Over the past few months, he said, whenever city commissioners have a meeting on housing, workforce development or other issues, childcare seems to be the need. #1.

Maybe, he said, “we could make it a mecca for childcare.”

One group also envisioned a science museum in the city, and the Civic Center could fit that bill, Strand and Mahoney said.

The mayor said a renovation and possible addition to the Fargodome could turn it even more into a multi-purpose facility. It’s likely to move forward in some way, he said, which could affect what’s done with the Civic Center.

Still, Sobolik said he doesn’t know if the Civic Center will get a new life.

“There are a lot of decisions to be made,” he said.

A few events have taken place at the facility over the past few months, including the successful holiday season Christkindlmarkt event hosted by the band Folkways and featuring food, music, a gift market and a brewery .

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Customers fill the Fargo Civic Center during the Folkways Christkindlmarkt event on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

David Samson/The Forum

Folkways organizer Joe Burgum said the event was “magical” with more than 30,000 people in attendance and 30 small businesses selling products.

The Civic Center was one of the “best places I could imagine for the event,” he said.

Folkways plans to hold the market there again in November.

Over the past few weeks, there have been dance and cheerleading competitions at the facility.

Events, however, are rare. When there is an event, Sobolik said, it is held by Fargodome workers.

The current major expense is heating and cooling the building, which has averaged around $100,000 in recent years.

Regarding the condition of the building, Mahoney and Sobolik said that in addition to the general issues with any aging structure, there are also mechanical issues.

Asbestos is also a problem, Redlinger said, although abatement work has been completed.

The bathrooms are another story. Although a few toilets have been renovated, some facilities date from its construction in 1961.

Redlinger said more assessments and feasibility work was needed and suggested it could take another few years before anything is done.

Still, Strand said the Civic Center and surrounding land is an asset to the city and needs to be found for valuable use, whether it’s renovation or demolition.

Meanwhile, Burgum said he wanted the building to be used more, although he acknowledged increased competition from new entertainment venues in recent years.

Burgum is excited about what awaits him in the Civic Plaza area with the new City Hall and Library in place, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge slated for construction next year over Second Street, and the flood wall. providing better and safer access to the Red River.

Aerial view of the Fargo Civic Plaza bridge.jpg
This is a drawing of the proposed Fargo Civic Plaza Bridge passing over Second Street North and the flood wall. Fargo City Hall is the white structure next to the bridge, and the Civic Center is the white structure on the far left.

Rendered by Bishop Land Design / Special for the Forum

It is part of a planned Second Avenue corridor that could stretch through downtown from near University Drive to the river providing an east-west connection for residents and visitors through the heart of the city, Burgum said.

The future of the Civic Center is a key element currently missing from the plaza and Second Avenue plan, he said.

Whatever happens, it can take time and, of course, money.

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