On November 6, Bismarck voters will have a voice in determining the future of the Bismarck Civic Center. The proposal to add meeting and conference facilities to the existing location will set our community on a path to becoming the Epi-Center of the upper Great Plains for meetings and conferences.
A recent Bismarck Tribune editorial indicated voters might need more information before moving forward. I wanted to share a bit of history on Civic Center planning. In 1989, the City Commission authorized the first Civic Center Master plan. Since that time, updates were completed in 2000; 2003; 2007; 2009 and 2012. In 2008, a marketing and feasibility study was completed and results of a revised study were just released. As recently as this year, consultants called or met personally with stakeholders, hospitality industry representatives, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber. Open meetings were held for public input. In the words, “We have studied it do death. It is time to act.”
Ninety million dollars is a lot of money. The organizations and stakeholders supporting this project need to be accountable to the community. The coalition supporting the expansion expects nothing less. The economic impact study for the expansion project shows a positive return on investment for taxpayers. From increased tax revenues to job creation, the study projects a minimum of a $1.60 return for each dollar invested in the expansion. So, for every ten dollars invested, tax payers will get back $16.10 on the expansion. If the city can reach a deal with one of the two proposed hotel developers, that return on investment increases to $26.20 for each ten dollars invested.
Activity in the Event center is up 10% in the last five years while total attendance has increased by nearly 20% in this period. The Civic Center generates $17.7 million in economic impact and supports just under 300 jobs. The CSL feasibility study showed the proposed expansion will increase the overall economic impact to $26.1 million and add 143 new jobs with the expansion alone. With the expansion and a full service hotel, the overall economic impact increases to $31.6 million and supports another 236 jobs in the community.
Some imply this expansion will only benefit downtown. Nothing is further from the truth. In addition to the increased visitor spending, the expansion will create a destination point in our community that benefits local residents as well as visitors; increase the opportunity for concerts and events in the arena; facilitate economic development and serve as a focal point to our quality of life.
In closing, let me say the City Commission looked at various alternatives to finance this expansion. To minimize the impact on our local residents, the proposal is to increase the hospitality tax. The majority of this tax is collected from visitors on hotel rooms, alcohol and restaurant food. Thus, it minimizes the impact on the local residents. The City Commission is committed to not using property taxes or general sales tax dollars for this expansion. I ask for you to vote YES for Bismarck City Measure 1 on November 6 and make our community the Epi-Center for meetings and conferences.
John Warford is the Mayor of Bismarck.