Coming to terms with Bismarck Civic CenterThe Bismarck City Commission has commissioned “specification designs” to expand the Exhibit Hall at the Civic Center. The intention will be to pay off bonds that finance the work with existing hospitality taxes. It would not require a city-wide vote. The cost: $25 million.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
The Bismarck City Commission has commissioned “specification designs” to expand the Exhibit Hall at the Civic Center. The intention will be to pay off bonds that finance the work with existing hospitality taxes. It would not require a city-wide vote. The cost: $25 million.
Residents voted down a $90 million Civic Center expansion in November. That would have required an increase in the hospitality tax.
The downsized version appears to be a pragmatic response to a growing need, highlighted by the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, which filled the Exhibit Hall to capacity last year and which organizers are afraid will leave for bigger pastures. Proponents of the project speak of the potential loss of conferences and conventions without identifying them.
The real rub was that failed vote. What did it mean? Did it mean $90 million was too expensive? Or that the project didn’t have the right makeup? Or that people wanted a new center on the north side?
People in the voting booths do not annotate their yes or no. It’s up or down. Because of that, the city commission should be holding public hearings and using other methods to plumb the level of support the downsized project has among the electorate. The city commission doesn’t have to consult the people, but it should. And when the city commission makes its final decision on the projects, the justification should be explained.
The Civic Center makes Bismarck a better city. It represents a tremendous investment on the part of local taxpayers. It offers flexibility, whether it’s local basketball games, Broadway shows, concerts or, during an emergency, a place where sandbags can be filled. It’s a locale for conventions and conferences, monster truck rallies and a polling place during elections.
In some cities, such a facility would be beloved, a feeling many people here have for the Belle Mehus Auditorium. But Bismarckers’ feelings about the Civic Center are complicated, more at arm’s length.
Why is anyone’s guess. That somewhat touchy relationship between citizen and Civic Center, however, is cause for additional conversations about this project.
The city commission certainly should keep the Civic Center a viable economic operation. As such, it’s an asset to the city and not a burden, in general, on taxpayers.
However, before the city commission makes a final decision on whether to expand the Exhibit Hall, it should consult with the public and have an educated understanding of why people voted down the previous proposal.