Something old to something new: Bison Sports Arena renovation supporters can find hope at New Mexico

Architecture professor Don Faulkner was sitting in his fourth-floor office at North Dakota State's downtown Renaissance Hall last week. He has a nice view overlooking the expansive urban prairie to the west.

The Pit before
"The Pit" before renovation. Special to The Forum

Architecture professor Don Faulkner was sitting in his fourth-floor office at North Dakota State's downtown Renaissance Hall last week. He has a nice view overlooking the expansive urban prairie to the west.

At one time, the building formerly known as Northern School Supply was targeted to be torn down, saved at the last minute by NDSU graduate and former Microsoft executive Doug Burgum. It was in deep disrepair.


"It's wonderful, I love it," Faulkner said.

Faulkner, an award-winning NDSU faculty member, was essentially answering a question related to the Bison Sports Arena and a possible renovation of the 40-year-old structure: Is it possible to turn the big white box in north Fargo into a modern basketball arena?


"It's a good structure, it's got nice, clear span space and it allows you to do all kinds of things," he said.

NDSU has plans to do all kinds of things to the BSA, although no definitive drawings have been made public. The athletic department remains in the process of fundraising and is specifically looking for the big gift to get the project rolling.

The idea of partnering with the Fargodome to add a multi-purpose arena to the Fargodome is dead. Bringing the BSA back to life is alive.

The latest thought is to turn the BSA into a basketball-only arena, build an addition for a basketball practice facility, overhaul the athletic training section and build a separate indoor track facility west of the BSA.

The cost is estimated at around $32 million, with about $4.5 to 5 million needed for the track facility.

The renovation concept - rather than build from scratch - is currently being undertaken at two other Division I universities. The University of New Mexico is overhauling the exterior of "The Pit" arena, and Purdue University is giving 1967-constructed Mackey Arena a new look.

New Mexico and NDSU are related in building structure: Both were built as square arenas a few years apart. The difference is UNM's has always been basketball-only and keeping the existing home-court advantage was a priority.

"It's been a very long process," said Scott Dotson, New Mexico's associate athletic director for facilities.


Most of New Mexico's renovation is based on a modern-looking structure built over the existing Pit. NDSU's plan most likely involves a new exterior facelift, but not to the extent of New Mexico's.

Also, New Mexico's $60 million price tag includes $20 million in state funds. Revenue from luxury boxes will also be used to pay off the debt. NDSU's project will be entirely externally raised and is also contingent on approval from the State Board of Higher Education.

A key to getting momentum going for the project, Dotson said, is to put together drawings and a 3-D simulation so the public can see the finished product.

During construction this season, the arena had to use temporary ticket booths, portable toilets and outdoor concessions, he said.

"And for us, it was one of the worst winters for high winds, snow and cold," Dotson said. "But our fans have been just unbelievable."

The result will look nothing like the original structure. Same at Purdue, which was looking at building a new basketball arena only to see the expensive price tag and think differently.

So, along the lines of what NDSU is thinking, Purdue is putting an addition on to Mackey and will take care of all of its needs for one-third the cost of a new facility.

"It became a no-brainer in terms of decision making," said Steve Simmerman, Purdue's assistant athletic director for facilities.


The NDSU plan will involve adding a concourse around the entire basketball court and tying it into the existing concourse on the west side. Although his department cannot get involved, Faulkner said the existing structure seems fit for such a project.

"I don't know what they have in mind, but I see all kinds of possibilities there," he said. "What's harder is when you have buildings that are cut up into little pieces and structurally are made up into little bitty pieces. Those are harder to rescue, but here, we don't have that. It's pretty easy."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

The Pit before
"The Pit" after renovation. Special to The Forum

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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