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Scheels Center to be top arena in mid-major basketball

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FARGO — Goodbye, Bison Sports Arena. Hello, Scheels Center. In the next two years, the big, white square building on the North Dakota State campus will be virtually gutted and rebuilt.

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In the next two years, the Bison basketball programs will not only be keeping up with the Joneses so to speak, but will have one of the upper-echelon homes in the NCAA Division I basketball mid-major family neighborhood. Just ask Jason Kemp, who spent eight years as an assistant at NDSU before taking a similar position at the University of Toledo this year.

Toledo completed a $30 million renovation of its arena in 2008.

“From what I’ve heard, this arena went from the worst in the conference to the best just like that,” Kemp said.

NDSU may very well accomplish that task by 2016. It’s a $41 million project that will erase the multi-purpose function of the BSA and turn it into solely a basketball venue with administrative offices and an updated strength and conditioning facility.

The Scheels Center will have fans within close proximity of the court, a modern lighting system, a “bowl” designed seating configuration and stadium-style seats with the exception of bench-style for students, said Devin Mogck, architect for T.L. Stroh Architects & Interiors in Fargo.

“Huge visual difference,” he said.

Visually, fans will be walking into an actual lobby first before entering the arena. Once inside, fans will take steps down to the bottom seating of rows or stairs to the upper concourse and enter seating sections from the top rows.

There will be no empty corners like there is in the square BSA. Essentially, if you leave Fargo and come back two years from now, you won’t recognize the place.

Like the BSA, Kemp said the old Toledo arena had wooden bleachers that were hard on fans’ backs. The temperature was tough to control, too.

“From what I understand, it got pretty hot in here,” he said.

Fans sitting in the upper rows of the BSA can relate. It was a common complaint of fans leaving games this season.

Problems like those will go away. In a sampling of the top 10 teams in a recent Division I mid-major poll, the 5,700-seat Scheels Center should compare favorably to most of them in terms of capacity.

On the upper end is Wichita State’s Charles Koch Arena that seats 10,512 after $25 million renovation that was completed 10 years ago. On the bottom end is Harvard’s 2,050-seat Lavietes Pavilion that carries its 1926-built nostalgia as a touted feature.

Indiana State and Wisconsin-Green Bay each play in off-campus arenas that seat well more than the schools are averaging in attendance. Green Bay, for instance, is averaging 3,851 fans in the Resch Center that has a capacity of 10,200.

Toledo features a full-service restaurant overlooking the court to cater to boosters. While NDSU won’t go to that extreme, it will have a club level on the east side to cater to its top donors.

The east wall will be expanded close to where the current sidewalk adjacent to University Drive is now. The south wall will be expanded to the current parking lot for a Hall of Fame entrance. The basketball practice facility will be built on the southwest corner.

The weight training section will be expanded toward Dacotah Field.

In the meantime, men’s basketball is expected to finalize a solution to play its games at Scheels Arena in southwest Fargo and the women are expected to play their games in Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. It will be double duty for the athletic department, which will have to figure out a system of where to put its season-ticket holders all the while planning for the new arena.

Senior associate athletic director Troy Goergen hopes to have a strategic plan in place by the time the renovation breaks ground this spring. All of the current corporate contracts for basketball expire at the end of this school year.

“We’ll be having conversations with all of the basketball sponsors of what the next two years will be like,” Goergen said.

Conversations will also include concession vendors and what to offer once the building reopens. That will include possible pregame catered events, similar to what is offered in the Fargodome prior to Bison football games.

“Potentially we can do the same thing in some of the new space here,” Goergen said. “It will be a new facility with the flexibility to do a lot of things that fans have come to expect.”

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