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Bison Turf owner aims for Dec. 1 reopening

FARGO - The walls and ceilings on the first floor of the Bison Turf are stripped down to the studs.Powdery, dark brown insulation covers much of the floor, drifting inches thick in some spots.One of the main roof beams near the west entrance is t...

Owner Pete Sabo stands outside the Bison Turf on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Fargo. He hopes to begin reconstruction within days.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Owner Pete Sabo stands outside the Bison Turf on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Fargo. He hopes to begin reconstruction within days.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO - The walls and ceilings on the first floor of the Bison Turf are stripped down to the studs.

Powdery, dark brown insulation covers much of the floor, drifting inches thick in some spots.

One of the main roof beams near the west entrance is terminally cracked and sagging, shored up by two steel supports.

Here and there are holes in the walls and extensive charring on the roof of the green and gold icon.

Stand by the bar, covered by tarps, and gaze at the sky through what remains of the attic and roof since firefighters battled the July 22 fire that closed the popular watering hole for North Dakota State University students and fans.

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"This is the worst of the worst," Sabo said. "From here on, it can only get better."

The 68-year-old remains positive he will get the Turf back in business.

Sabo has big plans for the 1934-vintage building at 1211 N. University Drive, though the timetable has slipped a couple of times.
Immediately after the fire, he thought the Turf could be reopened in 30 days. Then he thought it might be open in time for NDSU homecoming this weekend. Now he's aiming for Dec. 1. But even as he says it, he admits that could be a bit optimistic.

"The old girl needed a facelift," Sabo said, walking by a big roll-off dumpster in the westside parking lot.

But he's sure it will be worth it.

"I love this place. It's wonderful," Sabo said. "Everybody that's here is happy when they get here. There's been more marriages (started) in this place than any other place in town."
To rebuild the Bison Turf - complete with a 40-foot by 70-foot rooftop patio facing the NDSU campus, a second floor bar and bathrooms, new roof trusses, a new kitchen and a restored first floor - will take about $1 million, he said.

"It will be great," Sabo said.

Time is money for him. Since the fire, he estimates a $750,000 loss in business.

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Insurance has covered much of that loss, he said. But not being open for this weekend's homecoming means Sabo will miss out on an annual gold rush.

Friday and Saturday of homecoming are historically the two biggest business days of the year for the Bison Turf, he said.
If plans to be presented to the city by his architect and structural engineer are quickly approved, he can start construction in perhaps 10 days, Sabo said.

"We're poised and ready to start building."

But Bruce Taralson, Fargo inspections administrator, said Sabo's time frame is unlikely.

City staff still doesn't have final designs from Sabo's architect and engineer to fully vet, he said. He said Wednesday that he has been told they are "coming in short order."

While Sabo was given the OK to rip out water-damaged and moldy Sheetrock and wood, No permits for reconstruction and renovation approved until the city approves the plans, Taralson said.

He said if everything is in good shape, it could take a couple of weeks for all city departments involved to sign off. If there are problems, the timeline could stretch to four to eight weeks for approval.

"They have a good idea of what they need to do," Taralson said. "It should pretty happen pretty fast."

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Back in the bar, Sabo stops to stare at a line of framed, water-damaged photos of smiling students and other patrons still hanging on an exposed beam. A reminder of happier times.
Sabo said he knew the bar was popular, but didn't realize just how popular until the fire shut him down. People ask him how long it will be before the Turf reopens. He's received texts from around the country and the world.

NDSU students said on Thursday, Sept. 29, that they hope the popular watering hole is back in business soon.

"I turned 21 in August and I was a little bummed because it (a night at the Bison Turf) is a rite of passage," said Kalley Norr, a first-year master's degree student.

"It burned down two weeks before I turned 21," Norr said. "I'm definitely excited for it to be opened."

Hannah Flach, a senior, said it would be good to have the Turf back in business.

"I used to go there with my friends all the time," she said. "It's a fun atmosphere."

At 19, Lee Vetsch said he's too young to be a Turf regular.

But when he's 21, "I would be. I've heard good stories about the Turf."

"I hope it opens before I get done, said junior Sumner Boschert as he walked past the shuttered bar and restaurant. "It's pretty laid back. It's not as gross as downtown."

Sabo focuses on the positives.

The building needed upgrading, he said. Some areas needed to be replaced, and he needed more keg storage.

He insists he's never entertained doubts about his goal to reopen.

"Never once," Sabo said.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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