FARGO — After a dismal financial year hit the Fargodome due to numerous cancellations spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, a new study is shining a light on the money the institution brings to the community.
The first economic impact study of the Dome in 18 years was released this week, and it shows the venue contributed an average of $63.6 million each year in the past decade to the local economy.
The independent study, which more closely examined the year of 2019, found that year beat the average with direct visitor spending and Fargodome operations measured at $42.4 million. Secondary benefits to city businesses raised the total to $69.7 million.
General Manager Rob Sobolink said the three biggest drivers of revenue over the years have been increasing benefits from amateur sporting events, big name national concert acts and often sold-out North Dakota State University football games.
The biggest business beneficiaries in the metropolitan area have been retail stores, food and beverage businesses and hotels and motels.
The study, according to the Dome's finance director Susan Thompson, showed that compared to the Fargodome's 10th anniversary study in 2002, that the annual economic impacts have grown by 21% from $57.3 million in 2002 to the $69.7 million figure in 2019.
The increase was due to to a combination of an increase of 73% in average daily per person spending in the city to $74, attendance growth annually from 408,800 in 2002 to 471,700 in 2019, and a boost in needed operational expenses by the Fargodome.
"It kind of reaffirmed what we knew," said Sobolik about the report, which was a joint effort with the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It shows that the Fargodome is an important part of the economy and quality of life in the region," he said. "That was why the building was created, and we feel like we're fulfilling its mission."
Fargo Dome Authority board member Mike Ellingson said Tuesday, March 30, when the report was presented, that it showed the dome has "a huge impact to the community and for the community."
Sobolik said the biggest growth since the last study has been in amateur sporting events, such as the state high school tournaments using the facility and increasing single-day events to multi-day.
While there was substantial variation by event type, Thompson said, Fargodome patrons in 2019 were split between nonresidents patrons at 55% and local residents at 45%.
In all, the Fargodome's impact supports an estimated 548 jobs each year in the area economy. The Dome directly employs 26 full-time employees and roughly 700 part-time, event-related staff.
Adding to the local and state economic benefit is the Fargodome's sales tax payments that were $1.3 million in 2019, Thompson said.
She worked on the study with consulting economists Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund of the Impact Assessment Group of Fargo, who also used an online survey of Fargodome visitors to determine some of the data.
If there was an area where the Dome was falling behind and could improve its impact, Sobolik said it would be the ability to hold conventions which could boost attendance and revenue substantially in future years.
While the report showed the Fargodome's growing influence over past years, the pandemic was a setback, as it was for larger venues nationwide.
There was an operating deficit last year, and Sobolik is anticipating another loss this year. That would mark only the second year of negative income in the 29-year history of the Dome following last year.
For example, so far through February, the Fargodome was $221,500 below budget estimates with numerous events canceled such as the Home & Garden Show and Monster Jam.
The return of NDSU football has helped, with an estimated 9,100 fans at the latest game with the University of North Dakota and more expected this spring. The Red River Valley Sportsmen's Show also had good attendance in early March, Sobolik said.
It seems the future is bright, too, as it was recently announced that Ribfest will return June 9-12. So far, the Maroon Five and Guns N' Roses concerts are still on for early August.
"The light is getting brighter and brighter," Sobolik told the authority this week.
To help in the financial situation, he added, Thompson is working with the Small Business Administration on possible federal aid that was part of a pandemic relief package passed in December for large venues. That could help reduce losses for the Dome this year.
Last year, an insurance policy of $1 million for loss of business protection was a major boost, but the rider wasn't available for this year.
The Dome also has a substantial reserve fund that has grown over the years, and in another bright spot in the past year or so the fund with the State Investment Board grew by a few million to $47.6 million.