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Our View: $113 million event center not what community needs

There is reality, there are dreams and there are pipe dreams.

The reality is Stark County needs a fairgrounds and a new rodeo arena. The dream is to build a multi-purpose facility that can be used as an all-encompassing site for the Roughrider Days Fair, rodeo, carnival and all of its expos. The pipe dream is the so-called Badlands Event Center.

Initial plans for the three-phase facility that would likely be located outside of Dickinson city limits and would cost upward of $113 million were laid out Wednesday during a public input meeting. The idea is to build an indoor multi-purpose arena that could be used for rodeos and various other events, an exhibition center, two more dirt-floored arenas with stables and stalls, and an approximately 5,000-seat event center.

It's nice to dream, but before it even begins inching toward reality, many questions asked by the public and two members of The Dickinson Press at Wednesday's public input meeting must be answered.

How much input has the Stark County Commission, Stark County Fair Board and Roughrider Commission had in the early stages of this project? An organizing committee has involved members of these groups, but a project of this size and scope needs to have their input at every turn.

Why is the Kevin Thompson, the CEO of the Dickinson State Alumni and Foundation, at the forefront of this project? What interest does the Alumni and Foundation or DSU have in an event center located outside of the city? On the surface, the answer appears to be that DSU's rodeo team would have access to the facility and even have its own indoor arena, but the price tag suggests otherwise.

Who is paying Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction and global design firm Populous to do the planning since this is a privately organized project? These two companies don't come cheap.

Where would it be built? Thompson wouldn't give any indicator of where this project could be built, saying the committee working to make it a reality is "in talks" with different landowners. Who are the landowners? Whose property taxes stand to increase if this project is built near their land? If the committee wants public support, they need to be open about where these buildings could be built and immediately ask the public for their input on the matter.

Why not build it inside Dickinson city limits? Granted, Dickinson is growing at a rapid pace, but why build a facility like this, which Thompson claims would be the "crown jewel" of the community for 100 years, outside of it?

Lastly, the primary focus of this project, at least in the beginning stages, appears to be the creation of a state-of-the-art rodeo facility. But why?

We believe rodeo will always have a huge role in western North Dakota's heritage and culture, and that Stark County is in desperate need of a new rodeo facility to replace the decaying Roughrider Outdoor Arena on State Avenue. But, by no means does the community need a rodeo facility of this magnitude.

The first phase of the project is an approximately $31 million multi-purpose arena, exhibition hall and outdoor arena. If that first phase of the project is completed, the next phase calls for $22 million to go toward an exhibition hall, a public riding arena with stables and stalls for livestock, and a rodeo arena with stables and stalls solely to be used by Dickinson State.

That's more than $50 million centered around rodeo arenas and exhibition halls, which could be everyday-use facilities but don't generate a particularly large amount of revenue.

On top of that, the event center -- a bit smaller than the Bismarck Civic Center -- would be the final phase of the project and the most expensive at about $60 million. With the ability to host rodeos, concerts, trade shows and athletic events, it would be the only part of the project that could theoretically generate vast amounts of revenue for southwest North Dakota.

A project with this big of a price tag needs to be wide open to public scrutiny and input at every stage of development.

Also, facilities like this take time. How long could it be before the first phase is built, let alone the third? Is the community willing to wait or fundraise for a decade or more to have these facilities?

Before this project moves another step forward, there must be a profit-and-loss study done on each and every possible phase of development and the committee in charge of the project needs to be transparent with the community with their findings. The public needs to know everything about this project before any long-term planning takes place.

We believe it will be difficult for this project to gain public support without the assurance that it can be built without raising taxes of Stark County citizens. For it to even come close to reality, a private party must step forward to help fund it.

There is no denying Stark County needs a fairgrounds and the area needs more exhibition space. But a $113 million project that could take years to build is not the answer.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock, Managing Editor Dustin Monke and News Editor Klark Byrd.