Bismarck Commission Emphasizes Civic Center Expansion Differs Fr - - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Bismarck Commission Emphasizes Civic Center Expansion Differs From Plan Rejected By Voters

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Controversy erupts over the Bismarck City Commission's vote to move forward with expansion of the Civic Center.  Today, the Commission and local business groups present a united front.

Is expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center a "bird in the hand," or is the idea of a Northside Event Center a "once in a lifetime opportunity" that's being lost?  Both, according to dueling ads in the Bismarck Tribune.

On the side of expanding the current facility, Bismarck City Commission says millions will be lost unless they act.  "The expansion to the Exhibit Hall will bring in between 2.5 and 3 million dollars annually each year to Bismarck," says Parrell Grossman, Bismarck City Commission.

Others say the Commission is disregarding the peoples' vote -- since last year the public rejected an increased tax and the plan for improvements to the existing Civic Center.  The City disagrees.  "The vote in November was to raise the hospitality tax to do a major grand vision improvement for the Exhibit Hall and some improvements at the arena.  Of course, that was defeated.  We made a decision to move forward with an Exhibit Hall expansion, which is 27 million dollars, which is the only thing we can afford now," says John Warford, Mayor, City of Bismarck.

"The Commission proposes using the current hospitality taxes to fund the Exhibit Hall expansion and there will be no tax increase to fund this project," says Commissioner Grossman.  Although money for the project will still be borrowed, the Commission says current hospitality taxes will pay back the debt -- over the next 15 years.

In the meantime, a Task Force is being set-up to study a new Event Center.  But a group called "Citizens for All of Bismarck" says a Northside Event Center is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" that is not feasible if the Civic Center expansion project proceeds.  At least for now, the City seems to think they may be able to do both.  "We take the best ideas for a North Event Center, the best ideas what we can do for taking care of our existing business, putting those together and making a product that's best for Bismarck," says Mayor Warford. 

The City held four public input meetings prior to voting to proceed with a scaled-down Exhibit Hall expansion.  Bismarck City Commission says this information was presented to them prior to their vote.  They report 60% of input came down on the side of expanding the existing Civic Center.  Forty percent voted instead to pursue a Northside Event Center.


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