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RedHawks prepare to celebrate paying off of $5M debt to city

Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks owner and president Bruce Thom, left, and his son and CEO Brad Thom stand at home plate prior to the RedHawks’ game Tuesday night at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. Nick Wagner / The Forum

FARGO – A moment two decades in the making will take place at Newman Outdoor Field tonight when Bruce Thom sets fire to a piece of paper.

In a pregame ceremony, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks president plans to burn the document that shows his team has repaid the city of Fargo – which invested more than $5 million in taxpayer money to build the baseball stadium.

“It’s an absolute dream,” Thom said. “It’s a tremendous relief. It’s a tribute to the community and the fans of the area that they love baseball.”

The RedHawks play Gary SouthShore at 7:02 tonight, a game that is being promoted as “Burn the Mortgage” night.

All told, Fargo spent $5.2 million for the city-owned facility, which opened in 1996. Construction started in August 1995.

“There were quite a few skeptics,” said Bruce Furness, who was Fargo’s mayor in 1995 when the City Commission approved the spending. “A lot of people said it would never work and it would never last.”

Through a revenue-sharing agreement with the RedHawks, Fargo has recouped its investment, counting the $1.5 million that billboard magnate Harold Newman paid for naming rights. The city didn’t receive any interest from the repayment.

The original agreement called for the city to get 85 percent of the revenue from the stadium’s 12 suites that sell for $20,000 a season. In 2004, the terms were amended so the city took 90 percent of suite revenues to speed up the repayment.

“We wanted to give the city a little more opportunity to get their money back quicker,” said Brad Thom, the chief operating officer for the RedHawks. “We tried a 15-year payback … 19 years isn’t that bad.”

The city’s share of the suite revenue has averaged around $190,000 per year.

Now that the city has been repaid, it will get 50 percent of suite revenues. That money will be put into a maintenance fund until the balance hits $500,000. The maintenance costs for the stadium have averaged around $50,000 per year since it opened, city finance director Kent Costin said.

“It certainly has worked as it was conceptualized initially,” Costin said. “We didn’t have to spend taxpayer dollars on a non-revenue-producing type of facility. … It has been supported nicely by the community, and it is an additional amenity.”

Miles Wolff, the American Association commissioner, is expected to be at tonight’s game. Wolff was the Northern League’s commissioner when the RedHawks joined that independent circuit in 1996. Wolff was one of the key figures in helping bring minor league baseball back to Fargo.

Erv Inniger was one of the city commissioners who voted in favor of the stadium in July 1995. He was also an associate athletic director at North Dakota State, and in charge of securing naming rights for the new ballpark. The stadium’s naming rights were sold in 1998 and paid over a five-year period.

“To see something like this in our community … I can’t say enough,” said Inniger, who also plans to take part in tonight’s ceremony. “It’s a great summer pastime. … We got a bargain with our stadium.”

The RedHawks have averaged more than 3,800 fans a game since their inception. They have drawn around 3.5 million fans in franchise history, Bruce Thom said.

“This is a community of (around) 200,000, and we’re drawing 180,000 people a year,” Bruce Thom said. “The fans have stuck with us, and the team has been a winning team. … (Today) is a celebration of partnerships as far as I’m concerned.”

Eric Peterson
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.

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