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Fargo's Bison Turf on track to open in time for NDSU Homecoming

Pete Sabo stands on the teak wood balcony of Bison Turf on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
The second-floor women’s room is being tiled Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at Bison Turf, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Pete Sabo stands in the kitchen of Bison Turf on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

FARGO—Pete Sabo gets the same question three or four times a day: When's it going to open?

Ever since his Bison Turf bar, 1211 N. University Drive, suffered heavy fire damage July 22, 2016, longtime patrons call and ask for the latest opening date. His answer has been the same for more than a year.

"As fast as possible," he said.

Sabo said Friday, Aug. 18, that the Turf will be open in time for North Dakota State University's Homecoming on Saturday, Sept. 30. A lot of work is done already at the 7,700-square-foot, two-story building that's been the Bison Turf since the 1970s, and workers are now focusing on sheetrocking, flooring and other final details before appliances and tables can be set up.

Despite the bulk of fire damage being limited to the upper floor where a two-bedroom apartment once was, Sabo said he opted to demolish almost all of the main floor because of the extent of work needed to bring the structure up to modern building codes.

That included installing a $20,000 sprinkler system and plenty of other new equipment. He's already put about $300,000 of additional money into the project beyond the $900,000 insurance check he got after the fire, he said.

Newer building techniques and products will make the Turf more efficient than ever, according to Sabo, with better insulation, heating and cooling. The establishment also will have more room because the second floor will now be an extra seating area leading out to a large rooftop patio.

Fargo Inspections Administrator Bruce Taralson said it will have a new seating capacity of 384.

Old bar

Sabo said he's worked to keep the Turf as close to possible as the original building was built in the early 1930s and gained an addition in 1957 after suffering tornado damage.

"What I wanted to get was that old small-town bar feeling with great food," he said.

He's achieving that by reusing the original bar, not to mention old tables and booths. The new upstairs area will have an antique bar from Minnesota, too.

The new front of the building resembles its old look, and glass brick windows were kept in place and built around.

Sabo said customers will also find the same menu and staff they used to know at the bar that he's owned since 1988. It might've been easier to tear down and start fresh, but he said he's glad he decided to retain old character as much as possible.

"I don't think it would've been faster, but it would've been cheaper," he said.

Since the fire, Sabo has changed his target opening date several times after announcing an early goal of reopening with 30 days that he admits was too "optimistic."

The reason, he said, is he originally disagreed about the extent of damage. City officials ultimately declared the building more than 50 percent damaged, requiring a complete rebuild rather than minor repairs.

Sabo said he now agrees, acknowledging "they were right and I was wrong" about how much work was needed.

"I think they've gone out of their way to make this go easier," he said about city staff.

Taralson said the city will do a final inspection and sign off once construction is completed. At that point, the city would issue a certificate of occupancy, and Sabo could open the doors immediately.

"Our whole focus is always on safety," Taralson said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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