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New usage agreement being negotiated between UND, Ralph Engelstad Arena

UND and management at the Ralph Engelstad Arena are working on a new usage agreement for the facility that should be finalized within the next week. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Late afternoon sun shines on Ralph Engelstad Arena near the University of North Dakota campus on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS—A new usage agreement is in the works between the University of North Dakota and the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Jody Hodgson, manager of The Ralph and board president of the RE Arena Inc., the entity that owns the building, said he believes a new agreement should be finalized within the next week, but declined to comment further on the agreement until it is finalized.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the agreement is still "a work in progress" and that until it is finalized it would be "premature to comment on the document."

The usage agreement differs from the 30-year lease agreement between the university and the Ralph. The usage agreement deals with the operations and use of the building.

Ralph Engelstad Arena, a $110 million gift from Ralph Engelstad to the university, was completed in 2001 as the home to UND hockey. It is owned and operated independently by RE Arena Inc. and is leased to the university.

The arena is set to be turned over to the university in September 2030.

Hodgson noted that usage agreements can differ in length, and some have been done on an annual basis while others have lasted two or three years. He said they are currently aiming for a multiple-year agreement between the two entities.

UND President Mark Kennedy, along with other UND officials, met with Kris Engelstad McGarry and representatives of the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Las Vegas at the end of May. Earlier that month McGarry had claimed during a Grand Forks Herald editorial board meeting that communication between her and Kennedy had been "quite hostile at times."

The sharing of ticket revenue in the contract between UND and RE Arena Inc. was a part of the dispute between Kennedy and McGarry.

Ticket revenues between UND and RE Arena Inc. are split, with RE Arena Inc. currently receiving 52 percent the revenues while UND receives the other 48 percent, according to the agreement.

McGarry claimed Kennedy threatened litigation over the agreement between the school and the arena bearing her father's name.

She also said Kennedy told her the deal was written to benefit the donor, and the Engelstad family wasn't acting in the best interest of UND or the arena.

In defense, Kennedy said he had been negotiating terms of the deal but has denied parts of McGarry's comments.

"As we've tried to articulate what's in the interest of the UND athletic department, we've merely relied on the foundational agreements that define the parties' roles and relationships," he said in a statement.

The Engelstad Foundation has donated more than $12 million to the UND Foundation since 2011, though the annual contributions have decreased in recent years.

When asked in May if that kind of funding is in jeopardy in the future, McGarry told Forum News Service, "Well, I will say that the funding to the school itself, yes."

In response McGarry's comments, Kennedy had said he believed he had "always had good, cordial and civil relationships."

Johnson has called discussions on May 30 between UND and REA "successful."

"We look forward to a strong relationship that will benefit UND's student athletes and the UND community into the future," Johnson said in a statement after the May 30 meeting.

McGarry said the meeting had been "productive."

"This outcome is a positive step in moving forward and continuing our lasting and deeply rooted relationship with the University," she said in a statement on May 30.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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