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'Badlands Event Center' plans unveiled

Flanked by Populous senior planner Dave Forkner, Dickinson State University Foundation CEO Kevin Thompson speaks about a proposed $100 million event center from a podium at the Biesiot Activities Center on the DSU campus during a public forum Wednesday night.

Dickinson residents got their first look Wednesday at a proposed event center and arena grounds that could come with a price tag in excess of $100 million.

A crowd of close to 50 showed up at the Biesiot Activities Center to listen to Dickinson State University Foundation CEO Kevin Thompson's vision for a multi-facility event center that would come complete with a multipurpose arena, exhibition building, DSU rodeo facility and a main events center facility that would seat up to 5,500 people.

Conceptually planned for three phases, the complete project -- which Thompson said would be a centerpiece for Dickinson for "the next 100 years" -- is currently projected to cost more than $100 million, though exactly who would pay for the complex has not been determined yet.

"This would be a community-based and community-focused facility," Thompson said. "This event center would offer a wide variety of entertainment, educational, commercial and social opportunities. It could really be the center of life for Dickinson and the entire western North Dakota region."

Flanked by Mortenson Construction project manager Casey Jackson and Dave Forkner of design firm Populous, Thompson said the event center -- tentatively dubbed the "Badlands Event Center" -- has been in the initial planning stages for several months.

Thompson said the DSU Alumni Foundation has had talks with representatives from DSU, the Stark County Fair Board, Stark County Park Board, Stark County Commission and Rough Rider Commission about the project and has had "preliminary discussions" with the city of Dickinson.

Housing a number of facilities, the event center would cater to everything from rodeos, livestock shows, expos, banquets and conventions to concerts and athletic events and could even be home to a semi-pro hockey team, Thompson said.

Thompson stressed that planning for the facility is still in the early stages and wouldn't say what potential sites for the event center have been discussed, though he said it would be in Stark County. Thompson said a tentative timeframe to break ground on the project is sometime within the next five years.

"This project is still very conceptual in nature," Jackson said. "To get an idea of the size of the event center, it would potentially be, with all three phases, about three to four times the size of the West River Community Center."

A handful of people had questions about the potential undertaking, with Badlands Integrity Group owner Shelly Fleck being the most outspoken critic of the project and radio personality "Wild" Bill Palanuk being the most vocal supporter of the plan.

"We don't need a $100 million complex," Fleck said. "When is our community going to have a chance to become a community? People are living in campers and storage units here. I am very much against this. Let's really think about this."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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