Editorial -- 'Badlands Activity Center' idea raises questions

There is no disputing the fact that the existing football field, track and spectator stands at Dickinson State University's Whitney Stadium are possibly the institution's greatest liability issue at this point in time. This has been the case for ...

There is no disputing the fact that the existing football field, track and spectator stands at Dickinson State University's Whitney Stadium are possibly the institution's greatest liability issue at this point in time. This has been the case for at least 15 to 20 years.

We question, however, DSU's current approach to addressing this matter with its plans to recreate Whitney into the "Badlands Activities Center."

As we have reported in recent weeks, DSU officials and DSU Foundation representatives are pursuing this renovation project through a "joint powers agreement" with the Dickinson Public School District, Dickinson Parks and Recreation District, the City of Dickinson and Stark County. This project, which originally was touted as a $12 million proposal, has grown to $15 million as of this past week.

The project as currently proposed includes a new football playing surface and new track surface, a new stadium that includes several types of seating, locker rooms, concessions, rest rooms, an exhibit hall and parking areas.

DSU is asking the local government entities to join forces and cover half of the cost of the project - originally a contribution of $6 million that has become $7.5 million.


First, there are several points in the joint powers agreement itself that need unedited discussion.

Under section 6 entitled "Facility Management/Operating Costs" it reads, "In an effort to address general operating costs, DSU will request funds in support of the facility through the North Dakota Legislature."

This statement is misleading, as the North Dakota Legislature does not provide such funding for athletic facilities as the one proposed by DSU. It has been the longstanding practice of the Legislature that these needs must be met by the institution itself. This is one of the main reasons why the problems at Whitney Stadium haven't been addressed before, because DSU alone hasn't had the funding.

Under this same section, the joint powers agreement also reads, "The Development Board shall identify a process, unanimously agreed to by the parties, that will determine annually the share of unfunded costs to be assessed to each party, should such costs materialize."

These facilities traditionally don't make money, which means each entity that signs the joint powers agreement is soon to add a line item under its own annual expense budget.

Under section 8 "Concessions" it states "All net profits from concession sales shall belong to DSU. DSU will make opportunities available to authorized clubs and organizations from the School District and Dickinson Catholic Schools, whereby the clubs and organizations would provide workers for concession sales and in return, receive a portion of the revenues."

DSU should give the government entities the percentage of net profits from concessions that are equal to the percentage of their contribution to the overall cost of the proposed project. There also is the issue of how much it costs to use the facility, must users contract with DSU's food service and other unknowns.

Under section 9 "Administration of Fundraising Campaign" it states the DSU Foundation is the project's solely authorized fundraising coordinator and facilitator. For its efforts, the DSU Foundation "shall receive as payment 10 percent of the gross amount of all cash and in-kind gifts made to the project, whether made by private entities or by individuals. Public funds shall be excluded from the gross amount of contributions toward the project when calculating services fees due the DSU Foundation."


If the price tag for the proposal remains at $15 million and half of that cost comes from private contributions, this means the DSU Foundation will be paid a minimum of $750,000. Wow!

These above-mentioned issues aside, there remains the fact the government entities that are being approached for a combined $7.5 million also have their own operations to run. And within each of these operations, there continues to be longstanding issues that have not been addressed from a funding standpoint.

From the City of Dickinson's perspective alone, we still have the issue of special assessments being used to cover the cost of street repairs and whether or not that is a proper method to fund these repairs. These repairs also are being performed only once every 10 years using a process that rotates through the community.

With the added residential and commercial growth in recent years, our streets are taking a pounding. It would be fair to say the streets need more attention than in the past, and that attention should be more frequent, all of which means more money.

The city also has a longstanding north-south traffic flow issue, one which many say should be addressed by an expanded underpass on Highway 22 through town, or possibly creating a new overpass. Either approach has a serious price tag that's at least equal to or possibly higher than the proposed DSU stadium project.

The city's existing public works building is almost unable to house the larger new equipment that is required to maintain our overall infrastructure. The city also has not resolved the problem of having adequate back-up generators for our sewer system and other public facilities. This was exposed as a serious issue during the October 2005 blizzard that knocked out electricity throughout the city for an extended period of time.

And just this week, mailings started to appear in the city from supporters of the Dickinson Volunteer Fire Department. The mailings are soliciting funds to upgrade the city fire hall, fund the department's Web page and run television ads recognizing the efforts of the volunteers. Upgrading the fire hall should be a general fund expense of the city.

Again, there is no question there is a true need for a new football and track facility with locker rooms and improved seating at DSU. But does DSU's mission statement involve hosting conventions ... large gatherings? Especially when such a function competes with a private entity that just spent millions of dollars upgrading the main convention facility in our community?


How many times are taxpayers expected to pay for such a facility? Under this proposal, the answer is five times - with state dollars, city dollars, park district dollars, school district dollars and county dollars. And remember, the unfunded expenses also would be shared by all five entities.

City residents approved an increase in the city sales tax to fund the $12 million West River Community Center. The response to the facility has been phenomenal, which has greatly helped the financial picture for the park district.

Even when DSU's proposed Badlands Activities Center was projected to cost $12 million, there is no way that facility can generate the return - financial or otherwise, now or in the future - that the West River Community Center does.

Meanwhile, there remain numerous, longstanding unaddressed needs within the city, park district and county, all of which carry increased costs.

As the discussions about DSU's proposal continues, all of this needs to be thoroughly and forthrightly reviewed.

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