FARGO — Fargo Park Board commissioners took another step forward Tuesday night, March 9, in finding ways to finance the proposed Fargo Sports Complex and reconstruct the 44-year-old Island Park pool.
The board voted unanimously to set a limit for public financing for the indoor complex of up to $38.5 million and up to $16 million for the pool.
The hope, though, is that more donations can be obtained to raise the private share of the $77 million south Fargo recreation facility to 60%, which would lower the public share to $30 million.
The $38.5 million public share would be the result if a 50/50 split in the public/private partnership is realized.
So far, private donations total about $21.5 million, about $17 million short of the 50/50 goal and $24 million of the 60/40 split, although Park District Foundation Director Brian Arett said another $500,000 donation came in recently and would be announced shortly.
A lengthy discussion among the commissioners took place before the decisions were reached and followed another long examination at a park board retreat two weeks ago.
The indoor community recreation facility, the largest ever project for the park district, would include six basketball/volleyball courts, a full-sized soccer turf field, an ice rink, a walking track, multipurpose community space and new administrative offices for the district.
District Finance Director Broc Lietz said they were continuing to look at efficiencies in operations, delaying other projects and finding more financing to bring down the public share.
As an example, he said, if the district moves its overcrowded downtown offices to the sports complex, they could eliminate a project at the depot on Main Avenue that called for remodeling to accommodate more offices.
Another example, he said, is a few debts for projects will be paid off in a few years, freeing up more possible available funding.
"It's an ongoing effort," he said, as they are also looking at operational expenses.
Lietz said if the public-private partnership ends up at 50/50, they couldn't by law go any higher than the $38.5 million if the board approved that number, but they could lower it at future meetings when the administration presents a final and full funding model for the project.
Commissioner Vicki Dawson strongly favored the 60/40 split on the project, reducing the cost to the public through the debt or bond financing, but she eventually joined the remainder of the commissioners.
Commissioner Dawn Morgan said with interest rates on financing low it would be "a great time to act and do the full vision for the project."
Jerry Rostad, another commissioner, said even if it's a 50-cents-to-the-dollar investment by the public, it was a good deal and that the complex "would be there for generations to enjoy."
It was noted if higher private funding levels couldn't be obtained the remaining options would be to delay the project, scale back its scope or drop it altogether.
Commissioner Joe Deutsch said project costs would continue to climb if it's delayed. He also said the Fargo Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau donation of $1 million was its largest ever, which was evidence the return on the investment for the city would be huge, with visitors attending tournaments or other events at the facility.
It was local residents wanting a place to escape the winter months, though, that led to the project.
Park District Executive Director Dave Leker pointed out that a six-month study in 2016 led to the desire for an indoor facility. He said at the time they had meetings with more than 60 youth and adult groups that might use the facility, held six focus group meetings and a public forum.
That almost 5-year-old study called for an even larger facility with another indoor turf field and two more basketball/volleyball courts, he said.
As for the Island Park pool, commissioners again emphasized they were capping public funding, although they had hopes the cost to the public could possibly be lower than $16 million. Initial estimates for reconstruction, including a new bath house, ranged from $13 million to $16 million.
Commissioners thought if the two major projects were combined for bonding that funds could be saved.
A public survey last year returned by about 2,500 residents suggested many wanted a type of water park atmosphere added to the pool with with a group of water slides and a lazy river.
Commissioners wondered if that fit the downtown area and said they wanted to see design options with price tags.
Among the options favored by the board were a pool complex similar to what's there, with a 50-meter lap pool, a diving well with four diving boards and a zero-depth swim area with play features.
At an earlier meeting, it was thought a splash park and the larger slide complex should be eliminated, reducing the cost.
Leker said perhaps private donations could also help offset the public cost of the pool, a top priority in the district's 10-year capital improvement plan. The typical life cycle of an outdoor pool is about 25 to 30 years.