Guest Post: Bismarck Civic Center Expansion Is Good For All


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.

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  • Captornado

    You act like residents don’t eat at local restaurants.

  • ND in MD

    If this is such a great project and there is a great need for it, then why not fund it with future revenues the Civic Center will generate? Why force people from out of town to pay for it? Unfortunately,people from outside of Bismarck may have to stay in a Bismarck hotel while afamily member is undergoing medical treatment, why should they pay for your Civic Center that they may never use? I think it is sad that you feel gouging people in time there time of hardship is good – it speaks volumes of your lack of character. You remind me of a cheap cynical politicians who say: “this is
    federal money; it won’t cost the taxpayers anything.

    If this is such a great project,the City should sell bonds and retire the debt with future revenues generated atthe Center. As an added benefit, this arrangement will provide an incentive forthe management and commission of the Civic Center to have events that will generate the needed revenues – no slacking and having taxpayers pick up the difference.

  • Troy

    Too many ifs. If the CC is revenue neutral, why add costs to those of us that enjoy dining or buying alcohol in Bismarck? If it was revenue positive, they that run it should have maybe used the excess more wisely. If there truly is this demand, private investment will fill the void. Oh, but then the right people won’t have all the power. Vote no to any and all excessive govt.

  • Brent

    Ah, the joke that is economic impact studies. I challenge you, Mr. Mayor, to take away the phony ‘multiplier’ and then see what happens. Even better, give me your “study” and let me add a column called “costs” to compare that with the impacts (benefits, at least in your mind) that the study focused on. I’d bet an oil field that a “net effect” study would not make you a happy mayor.

  • Tim Heise

    Sir. I will not disparage your character as previously done. How will this Civic Center be different from the AC in GF which I would argue has not been successful? Thanks.

  • Roy_Bean

    This is a great idea, you place a “hospitality tax” on visitors to your city. That way when people from outside your city have medical issues treated at your 2 large medical centers you can soak their relatives for an additional 1.5% on food they eat and an additional 2.5% if they stay near the hospital to be near their loved ones. Does the 2.5% tax apply to the hospital rooms too?

  • NDConservative2011

    My question is: IS this the same Mayor Warford that backed several “Economic Development Loans” to companies that failed and left the Bismarck taxpayers footing the bill?? I believe it is. An now he is leading the charge for another project that probably will leave the taxpayers footing the bill when not enough revenue is generated. ND in MD nails it with his comment “If this was such a good idea why not fund it with future revenues”.

  • The Whistler

    You really think that spending 90 million for something less than 136 jobs (those studies are too optimistic.) I think that’s just plain crazy. Who’d invest their own money for that kind of return?

    • Rob

      Nobody. Which is why these things are always built by the government.

  • Randy G

    Uh John, that other John has taught you well. On how to spend money, taxpayer money…

  • Lynn Bergman

    Northern Plains Commerce Center, BSC olympic swimming pool. Civic Center Expansion is still another way to keep taxpayers in the red; to keep backfilling that property tax relief that is really revenue shifting from oil revenues.
    A word to the wise… don’t buy the snake oil!

    • The Whistler

      The Northern Plains Commerce Center was pushed by this Mayor, I believe. It turned out to be a huge disaster, so much so that one can only conclude that no serious study was taken of it.

      I don’t live in Bismarck, but it seems pretty clear that Bismarck considers the taxpayers as chickens to be plucked.

      • Rob

        The oil boom, driving demand for land zoned for industry in Bismarck, is sort of bailing them out on the NPCC.

        But it was still a bad idea.

        • The Whistler

          It sat nearly empty for years and years until they sold it off at a huge loss? So it never had the jobs that the politicians (Warford, Hoeven, Conrad) promised when they spent out money.