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UP Center leaves great impression

When you hear a giant swoosh, you'll know the opening of the Urban Plains Center is near. "Toilet flushing day. It's a huge day for any arena being built. All the people come over and flush a toilet. It tells you that the plumbing is working and ...

Dylon Heit

When you hear a giant swoosh, you'll know the opening of the Urban Plains Center is near.

"Toilet flushing day. It's a huge day for any arena being built. All the people come over and flush a toilet. It tells you that the plumbing is working and you're ready to go," says Lance Johnson. "I can still remember the big picture in the Grand Forks Herald of Dean (Blais) flushing a urinal at Engelstad Arena. It's a big day."

Johnson is the general manager of the UP Center, under construction in Ace Brandt's massive city-within-a-city development in southwest Fargo. The day when the plumbing works is still a ways off - and we hope the UP folks alert the media when they have a date locked in so we can get video and audio of the momentous occasion - but Tuesday was a milestone of sorts for the arena: 100 days until the doors open to the public. The USHL's Fargo Force host the Sioux Falls Stampede on Oct. 30.

Johnson was kind enough to give yours truly a tour of the facility Tuesday morning. Call it a taste of winter in July.

The verdict: You're gonna be impressed.

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mcfeely

If you can put aside the financial Hula Hoops the UP Center had to negotiate, and some of the conflict-of-interest questions regarding public employees involved in the facility, and whatever doubts you might have about who'll eventually pay for the building - you're going to like what you see once the doors are unlocked.

Of course, 25 million bucks should buy some superlatives. Not as many as $100 million bought in Grand Forks, but a few.

"I've had the blueprints on my kitchen table forever, so my wife has seen them. But even when I bring her over here, she's like 'Oh my gosh,'" Johnson says. "I'm like, 'What'd you expect? You've seen the blueprints.'"

But it is different to walk around inside an actual building, no matter how many times you've seen the UP Center's blueprints, renderings or computer animation models. You can picture what the arena will look like when the walls are finished with slate tiles and the concession stands have granite countertops. It's real, right there before you.

At first glance, it's bigger than you imagined - but maybe that's just because we're used to Fargo-Moorhead hockey arenas being Coliseum-sized. There are concrete terraces encircling the arena bowl, which is where the 3,000 reserved seats will go. Immediately above that will be club seats ringing the arena, basically a bar railing with stools for seating. Above that, at concourse level, will be a ring of 36 suites. At both ends of the rink at ice level will be bleachers that'll serve as general admission seats for Force games and student seating for high school events.

Four suites, two at each end, have been eliminated to allow for open space between the concourse and the arena. The space will be furnished with barstools and tables and will serve as a common gathering area, given its proximity to the beer stands.

The UP Center will be, as Johnson and others have said, the perfect size for the Force and North Dakota high school hockey and basketball tournaments. It is large enough (and will be well-appointed enough) to have a big-time feel, but small enough that it'll never be cavernously empty.

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The concourses, wisely, will have several floor-to-ceiling windows that eliminate the claustrophobic, casino-like feeling of some arenas. There'll be two concession areas and two sets of restrooms on each side of the arena.

The 10,000-square-foot lobby will have concessions, too. The lobby will also include a restaurant, fireplace and small stage.

"We'll have a band playing when people are coming in before games," Johnson said. "It'll make for a pretty festive atmosphere."

Eventually, the west-facing lobby will connect the main arena to the four ice sheets planned for the UP Center. For now, all that's beyond the lobby is a large North Dakota soybean field.

But things are progressing. Suites are sheet-rocked. The next couple of weeks will see the ice-making pipes laid and the concrete poured in the arena floor. The outline of an NHL-sized ice sheet is clearly delineated. Bit by bit, the UP Center is coming to life.

"I've been looking at blueprints for months. You ask the architects, 'What about this? What's this going to look like?' And all they say is, 'Don't worry,'" Johnson said. "It's amazing to see it come together. It hasn't been an easy road to get here, but I think we're going to see the fruits of all our labor."

Agreed. Perhaps the sound of popping corks should follow that of flushing toilets.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com . McFeely's blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

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