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Alerus threatens dome's musical monopoly

Competition with the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D., is forcing the Fargodome to slash its rent and pay for other costs, such as security, at some of its major concerts.

Competition with the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D., is forcing the Fargodome to slash its rent and pay for other costs, such as security, at some of its major concerts.

For nearly a decade, the Fargodome ruled as king of the concert industry in the Red River Valley.

Its drawing power put Fargo on the tours of legendary and modern music stars.

The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Elton John, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Metallica are just a few of the names to play the dome since it opened in 1992.

But competition to the north threatens the dome's musical monopoly -- and reduces its revenues as well.


In the past 16 months, the Alerus has hosted boy band 'N Sync, rockers Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne and country singer Toby Keith.

And the palatial Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks has established itself as the valley's third major entertainment venue.

Upcoming acts at the arena include bands Poison and Cinderella and comedian Dennis Miller. Those shows follow this month's concert by country star Tim McGraw.

As a result of the new competition, the Fargodome's $192,235 profit in 2001 was about $140,000 below projections and one of the lowest in the past nine years.

Still, Alerus officials say they're wary of the Fargodome's ability to attract the biggest names in music.

"The dome has a tremendous track record of luring concerts to the area," says Jeff Kossow, the executive director of the Alerus Center.

"We have to work harder to get those same acts," he says.

Fargodome Executive Director Paul Johnson says the Alerus has changed the concert climate in the valley.


"There really wasn't any competition for the Fargodome in the past," he says.

The addition of the Alerus makes it harder to lure top acts to Fargo, Johnson says.

Plus, the dome's profits for big-name acts have been cut due to competition.

For example, promoters for major concerts paid $35,000 to $40,000 to rent the Fargodome years ago. Competition has cut the rate to $25,000.

Also, Johnson says acts have started asking the dome to foot the $10,000-$13,000 bills for ticket takers and medical and security staff.

"Promoters pit us against each other until we can't go any further," Kossow says.

Direct competition

Both Johnson and Kossow praise each other's facility.


"It's a good building and a good competitor for us," says Kossow, the Fargodome's former director of operations from 1992 to 1997.

"The Alerus is good for the city of Grand Forks," echoes Johnson. "It's going to do a lot of the same things the dome has done for Fargo."

Johnson downplays how often the arenas bid aggressively against each other.

However, Kossow says dome officials have expressed some interest in all the major acts that played the Alerus.

The Grand Forks arena opened in February 2001 with the Backstreet Boys and the Northern Crops and Potato Expo. Both events had been expected to wind up in Fargo. That was worth about $15,000.

On the flip side, rock band Creed agreed to play the Fargodome this spring.

But the group's April 29 concert was canceled after lead singer Scott Stapp was injured in a car accident.

The concert has been rescheduled for Aug. 13.


Kossow says the Alerus desperately wanted to bring Creed to Grand Forks.

"We fought very hard to get them," he says. "In the end, Fargo won. So we called them and said congratulations."

Money makers

Johnson says the dome has seen an operating profit each of the past nine years, ranging from $192,000 to $700,000.

Earlier this year, Fargo Dome Authority President Dave Piepkorn said the dome planned to boost its bottom line by adding more concerts.

The dome held six concerts in 2001. Piepkorn said he'd like to see eight to 10 bands play the dome this year.

Through June, the dome has hosted the Eagles, Weezer Alan Jackson, Styx and REO Speedwagon.

In Grand Forks, the Alerus saw $194,000 in revenues over expenses in 2001.


However, a $294,000 payment for video boards and signage put the Alerus' bottom line in the red.

Most of the deficit will be paid for by a quarter-cent city sales tax set aside to cover operating expenses at the Alerus.

Kossow says Alerus officials are trying to find the right blend of sports, concerts and conventions to generate more money for the facility.

But he argues modest financial losses are the norm for buildings like the Alerus.

Similar-sized arenas post losses between $250,000 and $350,000, Kossow says.

And an operating deficit doesn't mean the Alerus isn't a success, he says.

"The community wanted us to be an economic impact engine," Kossow says. "And we're doing that, even if we're operating a deficit."

A third competitor


The Alerus wasn't the only arena to make a splash in Grand Forks in 2001.

The $100 million-plus Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in October.

Engelstad officials say their first priority is hockey, but Johnson and Kossow expect the arena to compete for acts in the future.

"That's the kicker," Johnson says. "The Alerus opened and now a second competitor comes along within 75 miles."

Chris Semrau, head of marketing and media relations for Engelstad, says there will be little overlap for concert acts at the arena.

A shortage of open dates and smaller seating capacity compared to the Fargodome and Alerus make concert-booking difficult, he says.

Semrau does foresee a day when all three arenas will vie for the same act. "It can and will happen," he says.

Kossow says the dome's track record will force the Alerus to diversify to be successful. He'd like to see the arena hold more conventions, trade shows and concerts.

Hosting playoff games each fall for Fighting Sioux football wouldn't hurt, either, he says.

Johnson says plans already are in the works for the Fargodome to be more competitive with the other arenas.

About $3.5 million in state-of-the-art replay screens, new scoreboards and concourse TVs will be added soon.

Johnson says the timeline for the projects was pushed up to compete with the Alerus.

And while he agrees with Kossow that profitability doesn't mean success, Johnson predicts the dome has better odds of making money in the future than the Alerus.

"Based the city's population, location and economic base, I think the Fargodome has a better chance of turning a profit," he says.

Is the Red River Valley big enough for all three arenas?

Johnson says: "Only time will tell."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cole Short at (701) 241-5557

Upcoming events


- Champions on Ice 2002 Olympic Tour at 3 p.m. today.

- North Dakota Shrine Bowl, at 4 and 7 p.m. July 13.

- USA Wrestling, running daily July 20-27.

- 2002 Vans Warped Tour, with bands Reel Big Fish, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bad Religion and Borialis starting at noon, July 23.

- Rock band Creed, Aug. 13.

- County stars Clint Black, Brad Paisley, Cyndi Thomson, Rascal Flatts and Trick Pony, Sept. 15.

For more information, call (701) 241-9100 or visit the Fargodome's Web site ( www.fargodome.com ).

Alerus Center

- Greater Grand Forks County Fair, July 10-14. Acts include: The Roosters, BTO, Georgia Satellites, Fantastic Convertibles and The Hitz.

- Wild horse and burro auction at 10 a.m., July 12-13.

For more information, call (701) 792-1420, or visit the Alerus Center's Web site ( www.aleruscenter.com ).

Ralph Engelstad Arena

- Rock groups Poison and Cinderella at 8 p.m., Aug. 27.

- Minnesota Wild vs. Atlanta Thrashers at 2 p.m., Oct. 6.

- "An Evening with Dennis Miller," Oct. 18.

For more information, call (701) 777-4167, or visit the arena's Web site (www .ralphengelstadarena.com).

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