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Fargodome arena addition hits snag

Without NDSU's $15 million share, the proposed Fargodome addition shown above is a "no-go," says Fargo City Commissioner Brad Wimmer. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Without NDSU's $15 million share, the proposed Fargodome addition shown above is a "no-go," says Fargo City Commissioner Brad Wimmer. Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO - What once was a wave of enthusiasm for a small-arena addition to the Fargodome has slowed to a ripple.

This much is certain: North Dakota State University athletic department leaders are less confident than they were a year ago of the arena getting built.

It would be home to the Bison men's and women's basketball teams that university officials say need new digs.

Naming rights, which would pay for NDSU's $15 million share of the estimated $30 million-plus project, are in limbo. Construction costs usually go up each year and the dome's escrow account, which would pay for the city's half, is at $24.6 million, down from the estimated $28 million last January.

"But without NDSU's participation, it's a no-go," said Fargo City Commissioner Brad Wimmer.

That would mean renovation of the Bison Sports Arena, current home to the basketball teams, would be a go and remain the future home of NDSU's winter sports.

"We had hoped to have a decision on the dome sooner than now," said NDSU Athletic Director Gene Taylor.

NDSU raised $8 million for the BSA renovation as part of a campuswide fundraising drive that began in 2005. That included a $1 million gift from local businessman Shelly Ellig.

Taylor said about $6 million remains from that pot after multiple purchases that included a new scoreboard and new weight training equipment.

Both Taylor and Senior Associate Athletic Director Erv Inniger said the spring flood and Tuesday's half-cent sales tax vote for flood relief had the focus of city leaders.

"That stopped everything," Taylor said.

Wimmer, however, said commissioner support for the project has not wavered.

"If NDSU would like to participate, we're ready to jump in," he said. "But we realize what the economy has done for NDSU and all those things."

The struggling economy has made Inniger's job of finding a naming rights donor that much tougher.

"For the money that we're asking, it's very, very difficult right now," Inniger said. "A lot of companies are saying we can't cut employees' salary and give you guys a big chunk of money."

Inniger said he's more optimistic about raising the necessary capital for the BSA project. It was scheduled to be renovated anyway with a new weight room, offices and practice facility.

If the arena portion is included, estimates put the project at more than

$16 million.

"I'm more confident what the Bison Sports Arena can do for us," Inniger said. "There's a much greater potential in doing the Bison Sports Arena now than the Fargodome project."

That appears to be the sentiment of 30 top donors, who responded to a feasibility study conducted by the NDSU Development Foundation.

Taylor said the survey showed they were not clear on the purpose of the BSA renovation if it was not going to be used for basketball. He said there is no concrete timeline for a decision on the dome addition.

"I'm not as confident now as I was last summer," Taylor said.