Forum Editorial: The show shouldn’t go on much longer at the Fargo Civic Center – InForum

The Fargo Civic Center has boasted a host of major entertainers over its 61 years. In the early days, it was the venue for comedian George Gobel, singer Johnny Mathis, and singer-actress Dorothy Lamour in a traveling production of “Hello Dolly!”

More recently, the likes of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, comedian George Carlin and blues guitar maestro BB King have graced the Civic’s stage. Countless state B basketball tournaments have been played there.

But the Civic Center has fallen into a sad state that its administrator calls “limbo .” Essentially that means it’s become a little-used, but costly venue to maintain. Instead of the cultural, sports and entertainment asset it’s been throughout most of its life, the aged auditorium has become mostly a liability.

Not only has the Civic Center aged, despite some updates, but the Fargodome has siphoned away many events, leaving its older, less flashy sibling with not a lot to do.

Some numbers from limbo: In recent years, the Civic has operated at a loss of more than $100,000 a year. In 2019, a major maintenance project cost $450,000. The last year the building finished in the financial black, 2006 — 16 years ago — it made less than $25,000.

Assistant City Administrator Mike Redlinger said the Civic Center is in a holding pattern. That’s been the case for years — and it shouldn’t be allowed to go on draining public tax dollars much longer.

An indefinite, money-losing “limbo” is simply unsustainable.

In light of the pending city election in June, the fate of the Civic should await the outcome of the vote, which will decide who will be mayor and two of the other four seats on the five-member City Commission.

Once the new commission is seated, the long-delayed matter of what to do with the Civic and the related question of whether Fargo should build a new performing arts center should be priorities.

Fargo has been talking for years about the possibility of building a performing arts center, estimated in 2015 to cost $50 million either to extensively renovate the Civic or to start from scratch. Today, seven years later, the price tag is undoubtedly much higher.

A consultant concluded in 2019 that private donors could contribute $30 million to $35 million to help build a performance center, and city leaders have said they would like contributions to cover more than half the cost.

Before deciding whether to go forward with a new building, city leaders should test the willingness of benefactors to write big checks. If a new performance center is deemed feasible, it should be built downtown, the city’s cultural and entertainment center, and not as an addition to the Fargodome.

In any scenario, maintaining the Civic Center in its present state isn’t a viable option. Its downtown location next to Fargo City Hall, however, would provide a logical site for a new performance center.

Another promising potential downtown site would be the former location of Mid America Steel, which the city will redevelop as part of the ongoing transformation of the city’s core.

Because of the all-consuming flood diversion, and its many administrative and legal challenges, city leaders have been understandably preoccupied with other issues. But the time is fast approaching to decide what to do about the Civic Center and whether Fargo can afford a performing arts center to replace it.

This is a pressing issue that candidates for mayor and City Commission should address in the upcoming campaign, and one the new commission should decide, sooner than later.

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