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Terry DeVine column: Wake up, lend NDSU the money

Take North Dakota State University and the Bison football team out of the equation and there would be a giant empty space where the Fargodome now sits.

Take North Dakota State University and the Bison football team out of the equation and there would be a giant empty space where the Fargodome now sits.

I've got news for those of you who think the Fargodome was built just for concerts, monster truck shows and ag expositions.

It was built first and foremost for NDSU's football team, the one with all the national championship banners hanging in the rafters.

I have trouble understanding why it is that some shortsighted people seem to have no idea what progress is all about -- the ones who would never have built the Fargodome in the first place.

They are occasionally joined by pandering politicians in throwing up obstacles every time NDSU proposes doing something that involves its home -- the Fargodome.

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City Commissioner John Cosgriff, who often tells Fargo taxpayers what they want to hear because everyone knows he's planning a run for mayor in 2006 if Bruce Furness rides off into the sunset, led the charge against NDSU last week in the dome's finance committee. He and the committee told NDSU -- one of the biggest economic engines in Fargo-Moorhead -- to hit the road.

The committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the Dome Authority that it reject NDSU's request for a $1.5 million loan to build locker rooms and offices.

This was after the dome's building committee and a special locker room subcommittee proposed that Fargodome sales tax revenue be used to cover the cost of the loan, which would be repaid over 20 years, along with annual rent.

NDSU had hoped to build the facilities before the start of the 2004 football season, but that isn't going to happen now. Keith Bjerke, Dome Authority member and NDSU vice president for university relations, asked that the matter be tabled at Monday night's meeting of the Dome Authority. It was.

"We couldn't get it done in time for the upcoming season so there's no hurry now," said one NDSU source. "Hopefully, we can work something out in the months ahead and get it done for the 2005 season."

Being on the finance committee is a bit like being in the House of Representatives. You can vote the way you think the public wants you to vote because you know the Senate gets to do the heavy lifting on the bill. In this case, the Dome Authority and the Fargo City Commission do the heavy lifting.

Why not lend the $1.5 million to NDSU? The Dome Authority can borrow the money or lend it from the money generated by the half-cent sales tax. NDSU would repay the money over 20 years at a higher interest rate than the Dome Authority would pay to borrow the money.

I've got news for those worried about the half-cent sales tax sunsetting in 2009. It isn't going to happen. There are any number of worthwhile projects revenue from that relatively painless tax can be used for in Fargo. When this one sunsets, another will take its place. You can bet the farm on that.

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The 21,000 square feet the Dome Authority would have to retrofit to NDSU's specifications for locker rooms, offices and meeting rooms last year brought the Fargodome the amazing sum of $2,700 in rent. Wow.

The square footage below ground the Bison would utilize as part of the deal is currently being used primarily for storage.

The annual rent figure would have to be negotiated, but the Bison would pay market value for the space, well over $200,000 per year in rent. That sounds a whole lot better than a paltry $2,700. And that's for coaches' offices and meeting rooms that don't even have windows because they're in the interior of the building.

So what's the problem? The Bison are beginning the difficult transition to Division I-AA this season, which will likely leave them in the wilderness for a couple of seasons. And they find themselves facing even more obstacles right in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, 75 miles to the north, the University of North Dakota Sioux are just coming off another appearance in a national championship football game and the Fighting Sioux hockey team is top-ranked in the nation, possibly headed for another national crown. No obstacles there.

Get with the program, Fargo. Bison head coach Craig Bohl and his staff righted a listing ship in his first season at the helm in 2003. Don't torpedo future progress.

Janklow dodged the bullet

Don't ever let it be said that the powerful and the poor have equal standing in the eyes of the law. That was proven last week when former South Dakota Republican Congressman Bill Janklow dodged a bullet in court.

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Janklow, who served as South Dakota's governor for 16 years before being elected to the House seat he resigned from two days before his sentencing, received a mere 100 days in jail for second-degree manslaughter in the death of a motorcyclist. I think it's safe to say that the rest of us mere mortals would have been looking through bars for most of the 11 years Janklow could have been sentenced to serve for a felony conviction.

Janklow will end up paying $11,400 in fines, doing some community service and serving three years on probation. He will not be allowed to drive while on probation. If he completes the terms of his sentence, the felony conviction will be expunged.

Janklow, 64, arguably the state's most popular -- and hated -- politician over his 30-year career, leaves political life in disgrace and faces what is likely a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by the victim's family.

There are dark days ahead, but he created the demons that will haunt his future.

Readers can reach Terry DeVine at (701) 241-5515 or tdevine@forumcomm.com

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