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With public feeling overtaxed, private sector could be key to funding Fargo convention center

FARGO - The business community is weighing how it might help the city build a new convention center, according to city leaders.Mayor Tim Mahoney and City Commissioner Tony Grindberg said Thursday, Sept. 14, that the Chamber of Commerce is talking...

A conceptual model of a convention center at the Fargodome shows how it might be laid out where the west parking lot is now. Trahan Architects produced the model based on research by consultants at HVS. Source: Trahan Architects / Special to The Forum
A conceptual model of a convention center at the Fargodome shows how it might be laid out where the west parking lot is now. Trahan Architects produced the model based on research by consultants at HVS. Source: Trahan Architects / Special to The Forum

FARGO - The business community is weighing how it might help the city build a new convention center, according to city leaders.

Mayor Tim Mahoney and City Commissioner Tony Grindberg said Thursday, Sept. 14, that the Chamber of Commerce is talking with businesses about the proposed facility, which could lead to some form of public-private partnership.

In May, consultants reported to city officials the pros and cons of building a convention center in different locations around town, including the estimated costs ranging from $76.5 million to $111 million. But there has not been much public discussion since and, for a while, not much private discussion either.

The discussions at the Chamber are important because the cost of a convention center is the key obstacle, according to Grindberg. "Where it goes - lots of opinions - but until we know how it's going to be paid for and what role the private sector has, I don't think we can move forward."

Charley Johnson, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Fargo lacks the space needed by many major conventions. He said he keeps a running list of convention planners who have turned his agency down because of space, and it's two and a half to three pages long now, including some conventions that are expected to outgrow Fargo soon. "The day you give me an opening date (for the convention center), we will start booking things in it."

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HVS, the consultants hired by the CVB and Fargodome, has said it would cost $84.5 million to build a convention center at the Fargodome, $76.5 million downtown, $85.8 million near the Scheels Arena and $111 million at West Acres. Chamber officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday, Sept. 15, because they were attending an event.

Grindberg said he's concerned about the impact of a new convention center on hotels that already host conventions. "If I own one of those properties, I'm going to lose business and that's not proper if we're going to put public dollars into it."

He said he wants to be confident that a new convention center will bring business here that's never been here before.

Johnson, who has several hoteliers on his board, said there may be some impact to hotels, but he expects it to pass as the new convention center brings in more visitors.

Private-sector involvement will be important because the public is feeling overtaxed, Mahoney said. Consultants did highlight raising the lodging tax or starting a new food-and-beverage tax, he said, and those will need to go to a vote.

Though funding dominates the discussion now, the fight over location remains just under the surface.

HVS said the Fargodome is the best site, narrowly edging out downtown, because there is already exhibition and some meeting space there. The consultants said there's plenty of room still for debate because the scoring could be weighted differently depending on the city's priorities.

Mahoney said he still favors a downtown location because it would be more appealing to visitors.

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Fargodome officials have favored the Fargodome.

Johnson said convention planners tell him the most important thing to them is the size of a convention center followed by the availability of a nearby hotel. After that, they look for other amenities, he said, and he's heard from many planners that they want to be close to shopping.

He also noted that West Fargo is moving ahead with plans for a convention center at the county fairgrounds and that could affect Fargo's plans. He wondered out loud if the two cities could cooperate in some way on a convention center near the Scheels Arena site, which is right on the border with West Fargo so both cities would gain from new developments.

"Wouldn't that be a wonderful concept? Cooperation between our two cities?" Johnson said. "Instead of building two facilities to compete against each other, build one and work together."

Related Topics: WEST FARGO
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