City finalizes financing for $101 million Event Center
By Neal A. Shipman
While planning and design work for Watford City’s new Event Center has been ongoing for well over two years, the question of how this facility would be paid for was the big question.
That question was finally answered on Dec. 8, as the Watford City City Council approved committing 50 percent of the city’s sales tax revenues toward the construction of the 261,000-square foot facility.
The Event Center, which will be constructed next to the new Watford City High School that is being constructed in the Fox Hills Subdivision east of Watford City, is expected to cost $101 million.
“With the Roughrider Fund, as well as $54 million in participation loans backed by the city’s take on Oil and Gas Gross Production Tax revenues, we will be able to build this new center for the people of Watford City,” stated Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor during a special city council meeting on Monday, Dec. 8. “We’ve got the money to pay for it.”
According to Sanford, the city will tap the Roughrider Fund for a total of $37 million over the next 20 years to help pay for the construction costs.
“The people of Watford City have wanted a facility like this,” stated Sanford. “That is why they voted to increase the city sales tax. It was so that we could improve our indoor recreation facilities.”
According to Sanford, the new Event Center was designed to help build the facilities that the school needed to have, as well as to expand upon the recreation programs that are being offered by the Watford City Park District.
“This is a great example of community collaboration,” states Sanford. “We are meeting the needs of the Park District, the school system, as well as the hockey and gymnastics clubs. And it will all be in one building.”
The new Event Center, which will be managed by the Watford City Park District, will include a six lane lap competition pool with a 135-foot water slide and Lazy River; a field house with three basketball/volleyball courts and indoor turf; a main arena that can be used for high school sports, concerts and community events and a walking track; two hockey rinks; and a dedicated space for the gymnastics club. In addition, the facility will provide for a classroom for the University of Mary, a conference/convention room, offices, and a full kitchen.
According to Sanford, $80 million of the total $101 million project cost will be just for the construction of the Event Center. The football and other athletic fields, which are estimated to cost $10 million, will be part of a fund-raising effort. The balance of the cost is associated with furnishing the facility and architectural and engineering costs.
For Robin Arndt and Justin Johnsrud of the Watford City Park District, the Event Center will be a dream come true.
“The unlimited opportunities that this new facility will afford the people of Watford City and the surrounding area is amazing,” states Arndt, Park District supervisor. “It is going to change us dramatically as to what programs we can offer in the future.”
According to Arndt, not only will the community now have an indoor pool that will be available on a year-round basis, but the Park District will be able to expand all of its recreational program offerings.
“Right now we don’t have the space in the community for our youth and adult programs like basketball and volleyball,” states Arndt. “So we’ve had to put limits on the number of people and teams that we can have.”
But those limitations will no longer be an issue when the Event Center is completed.
“The building will take on a life of its own,” predicts Arndt. “With the indoor fieldhouse, we will be able to have three courts for our basketball and volleyball leagues. “And we’ll be able to lay down an artificial turf for flag football and soccer.”
The option of an indoor turf surface will also be used by the high school baseball, softball and football teams when their outdoor facilities aren’t available because of weather.
“We’re even going to be able to have a full indoor track,” states Arndt. “It can be used by our track team when the weather isn’t conducive for outdoor practice. And we could even host an indoor track meet.”
For Arndt and Johnsrud, the Event Center will have something for everyone.
“We will be able to have swimming lessons year-round,” states Johnsrud, Park District president. “In addition to offering a place for our hockey and figure skating programs, with two sheets of ice, we will be able to have adult hockey and curling. The possibilities for us are just endless.”
According to Johnsrud, the park district estimates that the Event Center’s operating expenses will be approximately $2.35 million a year with revenues of just over $2 million.
“We are estimating our expenses high and our revenues low,” states Johnsrud. “We want to make sure that we can make it work. We don’t want to price out the kids when it comes to their participation in hockey, gymnastics and other youth programs.”
While the school district, gymnastics, hockey and figure skating clubs will be paying an hourly fee for their use of the facility, user fees will be charged for others using the facility.
As part of the revenue stream for the park district to maintain the Event Center, the city council will be providing an estimated $600,000 in Roughrider Fund and $850,000 in Lodging Tax funds annually.
“We know that the operation and maintenance of the Event Center is going to have be subsidized,” states Arndt. “The ability to use a portion of the city’s Lodging Tax to meet the operation and maintenance costs make all of this possible.”
Construction of the Event Center is scheduled to begin in March of 2015, and will be completed by the fall of 2016.
When completed and operational, Sanford says the Event Center, along with the new high school, will put Watford City on the map.
“We think that the Event Center will put us on the map as a good place for families to choose to live and work,” states Sanford. “We’ve got 10 times the people living here and the same amount of indoor recreation space that we had for 1,500 people. The Event Center is going to change all of that!”