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Bismarck Event Center / Civic Center

By | Last Modified: December 8, 2017
Bismarck Civic Center

The Bismarck Event Center (formerly Bismarck Civic Center) is a 10,100-capacity civic arena and exhibit center that hosts such events as seminars, performances, and sporting events. Since 2017, it has been the home of the Bismarck Bucks indoor football team. From 1995-2012, it was also home to Dakota Wizards basketball.

The Civic Center was completed in 1969 on land partially donated by the Wachter Family, who were in the early stages of developing the adjacent Kirkwood Mall at the time. The city bought out this agreement in 2005 for $600,000 to gain full control of the land.

The center was renamed Bismarck Event Center in 2014. Major expansions were completed in 1990, 1999, and 2015.

Exhibit Hall

The Civic Center completed a 112,000-square-foot addition in 1990 that included six meeting rooms and a 48,600-square-foot exhibit hall just north of the arena. The addition and main arena were connected with a tunnel to allow easy access between the two facilities.

The $11.2-million project was financed using a sales and leaseback method, along with funding from a voter-approved 1% city sales tax in 1986. This financing vessel guaranteed the 20-mill property tax break promised when the 1% sales tax went into effect. The City sold the Civic Center, a watermain, and the library to Norwest Bank for $17 million. The bank acted as a trustee while the city re-purchased the assets with an interest rate of 8.33%, at installments of $2.1 million per year for 15 years.

Construction commenced in 1987. It was quite controversial. At least two lawsuits were filed. One challenged the project’s financing. The district court ruled in favor of the city, which was later upheld by the state Supreme Court.

In 1990, the state Supreme Court ruled that Bismarck had violated a North Dakota’s competitive-bidding law. Despite this, construction was allowed to continue because it was “impractical” to cease.

Supporters argued that Bismarck was losing opportunities with the Civic Center’s present state. One example cited was a scheduling conflict in 1986 where rock band KISS could not perform at the Center.

Controversy aside, the new exhibit hall had already scheduled 120 days worth of events by the time it held its grand opening in November 1990.

Southern Addition

A $9.8 million (one source says $8.6 million) addition to the arena’s south was dedicated in December 1999. Commenced in March 1998, this addition included 1,000 new seats, a new main entrance, new ticket box office, upper-level food court, and 1,200-capacity reception area. Other improvements included new sound, lighting, and curtain systems.

2014 Exhibit Hall Expansion & Name Change

A $27-million, 50,000-square-foot expansion of the exhibit concluded in early 2015, more than doubling the previous exhibition space. At only 60% completion, it hosted the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in 2014.

Once again, the expansion was met with controversy. Financing was again challenged, particularly after voters rejected a measure backing the expansion in 2012. The measure would have increased the motel, liquor and restaurant tax by 1.5% and the lodging tax by 1% to finance a proposed $90-million project. Opponents also argued in favor of a replacement in northern Bismarck as opposed to expanding the existing center.

Despite public opposition, the City Commission unanimously approved the project in 2013. It would be financed through bonds to be repaid using existing taxes.

On September 26, 2014, it was officially announced that the Bismarck Civic Center would be renamed Bismarck Event Center in response to the Center’s increased diversification.

A design flaw was credited for massive flooding from a severe storm in June 2015, which caused an estimated $200,000 in damage to the newly completed facility.

Bismarck Bucks

The Bismarck Bucks, a new professional indoor football team, established its home at the Event Center in 2017. 

Other Expansion Efforts

In 2006, an effort was initiated to expand the Civic Center at an estimated cost of $26 million. Part of the expansion included the addition of a parking garage and a 16-story Candad Inn hotel. A 1% sales tax increase was proposed by Mayor Warford to help fund the expansion; however, the plan was put on hold due to slowing economic conditions at the time and overall opposition of the proposal. As of September 2014, there has been no further development on these specific plans.

Another expansion plan was announced in May 2012 by a group of hotel owners who hoped to see a 30,000-40,000 square foot expansion.

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