City breaks ground on $83 million Events Center
By Neal A. Shipman
What started out as a dream two years ago to have an Events Center in Watford City that would fill the indoor recreation and convention needs of this rapidly growing community is becoming a reality.
And on Wednesday, May 20, Watford City community leaders and residents came together in celebration of the beginning of construction on the new 224,000-square foot facility that will be located adjacent to the new Watford City High School.
“It is really amazing what this community can do,” stated Justin Johnsrud, Watford City Park Board president. “As a park district, we had literally outgrown every building and program that we offered. And now, thanks to this new building, we will be able to offer an unlimited number of programs and services to the people of Watford City and the surrounding area.”
According to Johnsrud, the new facility will consist of two ice rinks; a basketball court with seating on all four sides to give the effect of stadium seating; a practice gym with two courts; an area for gymnastics; a six-lane lap swimming pool, a recreational pool with a zero point access and a water slide; and a convention area.
“With all of the other buildings that we use for recreation in town being undersized and outdated, what we have been able to do is bring everything together in one building,” stated Johnsrud.
Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, said that Wednesday’s groundbreaking was truly a monumental day in meeting the needs for enhanced recreational opportunities for Watford City and county residents.
“Two years ago, I received many letters from Watford City sixth graders who expressed their desire that we have more recreation facilities for them and the community,” stated Sanford. “Many of those students are here today as eighth graders at this groundbreaking. I hope we are meeting your requests.”
But the journey of dreaming of having a new Events Center and turning that dream into an $83 million reality was a huge financial undertaking for Watford City.
“Watford City voters passed a 1.5 percent city sales tax that allowed us to finance this building through the sale of bonds,” stated Sanford. “And the Bank of North Dakota allowed us to use a portion of our oil tax revenues to pay a portion of the cost.”
It was those funding sources, as well as financing from First International Bank & Trust and CornerStone Bank that allowed the city to complete its financing package.
But according to Sanford, while the city has the needed funds to complete the building itself, a fundraising campaign will be needed to complete the exterior athletic fields.
“We are going to need an additional $10 to 15 million dollars to build the baseball/softball field, the football/soccer field, as well as the outdoor tennis and basketball courts,” stated Johnsrud.
For Steve Stenehjem, First International Bank & Trust CEO and whose family donated the land in the Fox Hills Subdivision for the new Events Center and the new Watford City High School, seeing the Events Center become a reality is a dream he had 25 years ago.
I member when we we’re trying to build a building in Watford City that would have a hockey arena, a wellness center and more gym space for the school 25 years ago,” stated Stenehjem. “The new building will be a realization of a part of that vision. But it will be bigger and better.”
And, according to Stenehjem, when both the new Events Center and high school are completed, they will be the showcase of the city.
“With the new high school, the new events center will be a Class A facility for a Class A town,” stated Stenehjem.
In addition to housing city and school recreation programs, the new Events Center will also provide classroom space for the University of Mary’s campus in Watford City.
“It will be nice for the University of Mary to have a home in Watford City,” stated Jerome Richter. “You have shown to us that Watford City is the right place for us to have a campus location.”
“We’ve had a lot of groundbreakings in Watford City,” stated Sanford. “But this is one of the best. This includes the kids, this includes all age groups, and this is going to be a great thing for the entire spectrum of the citizens of Watford City.”