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Citizens Will Vote On Tax Increase To Fund Civic Center Expansion

Bismarck Civic Center

This November, Bismarck residents will vote whether or not to increase the visitor tax, targeted at lodging and restaurants, that would fund a major expansion and renovation of the Bismarck Civic Center. The expansion would cost about $90 million, with a projected $67 million funded through the planned tax increase.

Proponents argue that the Civic Center desperately needs to be improved in order to attract major conventions, mainly energy-related.

Opposition ranges from the cost of the project, to the focus of what’s being “improved”, to whether or not an entire replacement should be constructed instead.

I do agree that the Civic Center does need an expansion and improvement. It’s a reasonable argument that we could lose conventions to other cities who either already offer a better facility or would build a better facility in the future. In particular, Grand Forks officials have been examining ways to get into the energy boom and are in a position where they could lure conventions to their city. Fargo too.

Despite the need, the hefty price tag does give me pause. I’m left wondering if the plan focuses too much on wants rather than it does actual needs.

I am also concerned about the projected $23+ million gap in funding, without a definitive plan to cover it. We shouldn’t be raising taxes until that funding gap is secured.

One way that the City hopes to make up that gap is to coax a developer to construct a “full service destination hotel” adjacent to the Civic Center, which the City has an active bid posting for. Another option to fund the gap is to give naming rights for the Civic Center. How does BisManCafe Center sound? Yeah, in my dreams.

I’ve been against previous plans to develop a hotel adjacent to the Civic Center, one of which had included a 16-story Canad Inn (click here to see a picture). Just as before, I am still concerned about space, parking, and traffic issues of a major hotel so close to the Civic Center and Kirkwood Mall. I think a 16-story hotel, especially, would be an eyesore and overshadow everything around it. By comparison, the Radisson Hotel in downtown is a meager 9 floors – nearly half the size.

What do you think? Does the Civic Center need an expansion? Should we build an entirely new facility instead? What about an adjacent hotel? Is it worth the price? Click here to leave your comments below.