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Forum editorial: Go slow on arena ice option

The Fargo Park Board is right to take a go-slow approach to a partnership proposal to fund ice rinks at Scheels Arena in south Fargo. But go slow should not mean a knee-jerk dismissal of the initiative, which was advanced by the Metro Sports Foundation that manages the arena.

Initial prickliness about the idea is understandable. Arena managers pledged years ago to build four ice sheets, but not one has been built. The arena struggled financially, and some concern arose that taxpayers would be on the hook if the building’s finances collapsed. That did not happen, as creditors and benefactors stepped up to restructure the arena’s debt. Moreover, the park district agreement with the arena, which was written specifically to eliminate the arena’s tax burden, shields park district taxpayers from liability for the building’s debt.

The ice sheet issue precedes the tentative offer from the arena. The district needs more ice. Demand for ice time continues to grow with the growth of ice hockey and figure skating. Park commissioners have contingency plans to build more sheets, and have been adjusting the budget to finance the work when the time comes – five to 10 years, said a board member. The need, however, is more immediate, and a partnership with the arena might be a financially wise option for the park district.

At this point, the Park Board is not engaged in formal talks with arena officials, but there is little doubt informal discussions are taking place. That’s as it should be. If park commissioners can address the shortage of ice sooner rather than later, and if it can be done in a carefully crafted partnership that is beneficial to both parties, the option should be explored with open minds.

Scheels Arena is an asset to Fargo and surrounding communities. It’s home to a successful junior hockey team. It’s a venue for entertainment and other gatherings. It will host North Dakota State University basketball while the Bison Sports Arena is being renovated and expanded. It sits in the fastest-growing area of south Fargo, and is becoming surrounded by new residential and commercial development. The arena has been among the stimuli for much of that growth.

The city needs more ice. The arena has extended a hand to the Park Board in the hope of cobbling together a mutually beneficial partnership. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. But because of the arena’s history, a little digging beneath the surface is required.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.