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Fargo Legion faces vote

The Gilbert C. Grafton American Legion Post 2 is considering selling this building in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Members of Fargo's American Legion post will be asked Tuesday if the organization should close its club and sell its downtown building, an official said Thursday.

The Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2 executive committee recently voted to bring the issue to the full membership.

The decision came after years of struggling to overcome several negative trends, including a poor economy, declining gaming revenues, lack of parking, more competition downtown and the city's smoking ban, Mike Haugen said.

Haugen, who is second vice commander of the post, said the club's hours of operation were trimmed, employees were told that they'll work fewer hours and the post is looking for other ways to cut costs.

Haugen said the club will meet its obligations for events through October.

"This has been ongoing for years," Haugen said. "It hasn't been one thing, it's been several things."

The building at 505 3rd Ave. N. is in good shape, Haugen said. Not long ago, the post spent $25,000 repairing the building's boilers.

However, it is "larger than we require," he said.

The upstairs of the building, which features a dining and dancing area, is leased to the Knights of Columbus. The building also has a full kitchen.

The post has contacted city and state officials about retaining the club's gaming license, Haugen said.

He said the post would likely look for a new, perhaps smaller, location for a club if members decide to shutter the current site.

"We hate like heck to leave downtown when it's booming," Haugen said. "We just don't have the business we need."

The post learned through a survey that its bar and lounge were perceived as only being for veterans, so it tried to rebrand them as "Gilberts Off Broadway."

That brought in some younger customers, Haugen said.

A parklike area was also created on the west side of the building so patrons could relax outside during nice weather.

But that area wasn't ready until August, meaning most of the summer and good weather had passed, Haugen said.

Gaming revenues have also dropped significantly.

When Haugen joined the post's executive committee three years ago, gaming revenues were robust and the post gave $6,000 a month to charities. Now, it donates about $1,000 a month, he said.

Membership has stayed fairly strong at just under 1,400, Haugen said, though many cardholders don't patronize the club.

This is not the first time the post has considered closing the club.

"We were faced with this (in 2004)." Haugen said.

At that time, a call to close the club failed by a single vote, he said.