Events Center Vote - Part Three: Grand Forks - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Events Center Vote - Part Three: Grand Forks

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Since we head to the polls Tuesday to vote whether we want to build an events center in Sioux Falls, we've been bringing you stories this week on events centers outside our area and how they operate.

First it was Fargo, Tuesday it was Omaha and Wednesday we're bringing you to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

But in Grand Forks, the Alerus Center is seeing more red ink in the last few years than it wants to.

We explain why this is happening and what locals have to say as we continue our events center coverage.

College student Austin Sejnoha is one of thousands who enjoys going to the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

"I've lived here for about seven months and I've been here probably once a month," Sejnoha said.

Austin just moved to Grand Forks from Sioux Falls so he's more than familiar with our upcoming events center vote.

"I went to a Skyforce game last Spring and it just seems run down to me. It seems like we can use an upgrade," Sejnoha said.

The Alerus Center is much newer than the Sioux Falls Arena. Many consider the Alerus Center a world-class facility.

To learn more about it, we talked with Grand Forks city council and Alerus Center commission member Curt Kreun.

The city built the arena ten years ago, for $80 million. It's still being paid for by visitors and those who live in the city with a three-quarter cent sales tax. That should expire in 2029.

But before it was built, it went to a public vote and failed twice.

"During the process they decided they wanted an arena to serve more of the local interest. The conference center they felt was going to serve a larger regional aspect and bring people in from the outside," Kreun said.

The Alerus Center is built similar to what's been proposed in Sioux Falls. It's attached to a convention center and a hotel.

While they can fit up to 22,000 people for big name concerts like Cher and Britney Spears, it might not be enough. The past few years the events center has been operating in the red.

"The center itself and operation aspect doesn't make money every year. These are very large facilities," Kreun said.

Here are some of the numbers. Last year, the Alerus Center lost $37,472. The year before that in 2009 made $29,953 but 2008 was their worst year since they opened losing $480,818.

"Our goal is to always break even," Kreun said.

But that hasn't always been the case.

The University of North Dakota has been the center's number one money maker. It can seat up to 13,000 people for football games. But switching from Division II to Division I has hurt the facility.

"With the Division I transition and attendance down at football games, that's our number one income source are far as the arena side goes," Kreun said.

So the city is trying to compensate.

"We are utilizing the arena side with smaller venues and many different types of venues in order to compensate for that large one venue," Kreun said.

To give you an idea of the size of Grand Forks it's smaller than Sioux Falls. About 52,000 people live there. If you include surrounding areas that number's more than 98,000.

In Sioux Falls we have more than 153,000 people and in surrounding areas, 228,000.

Since Sioux Falls has more people, Kreun thinks an events center facility could be successful, if voters give it the green light.

"With your population base and your motel already there, with your college and all the business activity, I would think the convention side would do very well," Kreun said.

Even though the Alerus is having financial issues, Kreun thinks there are more positives than negatives.

"I firmly believe it enhances your community," Kreun said.

And from Austin's experience at the Alerus Center, he thinks it's time Sioux Falls builds its own.

"Something like the Alerus Center is definitely something I think the local community would respond to," Sejnoha said.

Because of the Alerus Center's struggles, the city commission is ending its contract with the management firm VenuWorks next year.

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