City looks to build $56 million events center
By Neal A. Shipman
Imagine Watford City having a facility that would have an indoor swimming pool, two sheets of ice for hockey and figure skating, as well as a 3,000 seat venue that could hold concerts and sporting events and a convention center. And that facility would also include a walking/running track, meeting and conference rooms, plus have space for groups such as the Badlands Gymnastics Club, dance and ballet groups, and the Watford City Senior Citizens.
All of that and much more is possible, according to Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, if Watford City voters approve a half cent increase to the city’s sales tax during the June 10 election.
“Watford City has literally outgrown all of its current facilities that used to house these groups and events,” states Sanford. “We have five times the number of people here today that we had five years ago and we just don’t have the facilities to take care of all of these recreational needs. And many of the buildings that are currently being used just aren’t adequate.”
To illustrate the huge growth in youth programs, Sanford notes that there are currently 300 youth involved in hockey and figure skating programs, more than 200 in gymnastics, and 200 hundred-plus in youth basketball programs.
And, according to Sanford, that doesn’t even begin to touch on the need for more space to handle school activities, as well as other adult and senior recreation programs and other activities that the area residents are looking for.
“This is really a recreation facility that would be run and managed by the Watford City Park District,” states Sanford. “This is as exciting as it gets when you look at what this building can provide. And it will also be large enough for us to handle the needs of a rapidly growing community.”
According to Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Economic Development director, the idea of a facility of this nature has been high on the public’s list of needs for several years.
“In every community survey that we have done, an indoor pool has been one of the high priorities,” states Veeder. “But that just wasn’t possible until this concept became available.”
While the 240,700-square foot $56 million recreation complex may seem too large and expensive for a city like Watford City, Sanford says that the time is right to build the facility. And not only is the time right, but with the use of a portion of the city sales tax, the cost of the new facility won’t be borne by city residents.
“The payment for this building is not on the city resident’s property taxes,” states Sanford. “It is being paid for by oil taxes and by using a portion of the city’s sales tax.”
According to Sanford, the city will pay $5 million a year for the next 10 years to repay a Bank of North Dakota loan. Funding for those payment dollars will come from a portion of the Oil and Gas Gross Production taxes that the city receives from the state as a result of oil activity in the county. In addition, the city intends to use a portion of the city sales tax to fund construction costs.
“That is why it is important that city residents vote in favor of the city sales tax measure, which would increase Watford City’s sales tax to 1½ cents, on the June 10 ballot,” states Veeder. “The use of the increased amount of money that will be generated by the city’s sales tax will not only help fund this facility, but will also help us build a new healthcare facility, make improvements at the Watford City Airport, and also provide money to build more affordable and senior housing in the community.”
According to Sanford, the city anticipates that with the 1½ cent city sales tax, approximately $400,000 will be generated to help fund all of these projects.
Forty-five percent of the city sales tax will be used to help pay for the new healthcare facility and the events center,” stated Sanford. “The balance of the fund will be used to provide affordable housing, make improvements at the airport and continue to make improvements in the city that will enhance the quality of life.
According to Veeder, the new events center, as well as the healthcare facility, are key components to improving the lifestyle in Watford City.
“If you want people to have a decent life here, we need to have new facilities like the events center and the new healthcare facility,” states Veeder. “The events center is what you have to have if you want families here. It has something for everyone from kids to 80-year-old residents of Watford City.”
And more importantly, according to Veeder, the events center is a payment to city residents for what they have had to put up with as a result of the oil development.
“We’ve (city and county residents) had to live with all the crap associated with the oil development,” says Veeder. “This events center is what we’re doing to give the people of this community something that they need and want.”