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Commissioners slow West Fargo convention center plans

A rendering by Icon Architectural Group of what a convention center near Main Avenue could look like in West Fargo. Special to the Pioneer

West Fargo city commissioners want to slow down a proposal to partner with the Red River Valley Fairgrounds to build a convention center in the city.

The commission directed staff to create a "public engagement" plan that would gather public interest in West Fargo building a convention center.

In February 2017, the city and Red River Valley Fair officials announced they were working on a proposal to build a $20 million, 87,087-square-foot convention center that could hold large-scale trade shows or multiple 500-person events in a facility on the western edge of the fairgrounds just south of Main Avenue.

But, the first step in building a center would have to be an annexation arrangement between the city and RRVF and considering how to pay for the project. The RRVF owns about 350 acres on the west side of West Fargo and uses about a third of that with existing buildings and parking areas. The land is not part of the city of West Fargo but is considered rural property in Cass County.

On Monday, June 4, Economic Development Director Matt Marshall presented an early draft annexation plan to the City Commission and asked commissioners to discuss moving forward.

"I see this as step one; this is a draft," Marshall said Monday.

However, Commissioners Duane Hanson, Mike Thorstad and Mark Wentz said they felt they had not been given enough information to make a decision.

"I think we need to decide as a commission if we want to be in the convention center," Hanson said. "I think having the convention center in West Fargo would be wonderful. I have serious concerns about the city of West Fargo financing that kind of thing though."

Marshall suggested the city could bond for the project, use sales tax or consider TIF financing for a developer, but no final proposals have been decided, he said.

On Monday, the commission asked Marshall to get cost estimates for a feasibility study of building a convention center and create a public engagement plan that would outline ways to get public input.

"I assumed public engagement would certainly be a part of this," Marshall said.

The need for meeting space has been felt around Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead.

"We need more meeting space in this metropolitan area," said Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.. "We know these things bring economic activity to communities. Is that what you want to do or do you want to lay back and see what happens? It's a decision you'll make based on what you think your priorities are as a city."

For the Red River Valley Fair, which hosts events year-round, including Big Iron each fall—one of the region's largest agriculture trade shows—a large event center seems like a perfect fit on its property.

"We've been looking at this for two years," said Red River Valley Fair general manager Bryan Schulz said Monday. "Sitting in the back of the room, I wonder where everybody has been. It's been in the media; it's been talked about. If there are questions, why haven't they been asked?"

Icon Architectural Group sketched an initial plan by February 2017 for the West Fargo convention center that would have three large 500-person capacity ballrooms, plus a large main space with seating for about 3,000. Initial plans would include paved parking for 1,880 vehicles and gravel parking for 500 vehicles.

"I think we're a long ways from making a decision," Thorstad said.

Early plans called for a six-story, roughly 130-room hotel that could be built alongside the convention center by a private developer. It could potentially house a full-service bar and restaurant.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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