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Engelstad arena governed by complex mix of entities

At about $110 million, the Ralph Engelstad Arena was the single-largest private contribution in UND's history.

It stands to reason then that the infrastructure to keep the place open would be built on a similar scale. Tax filings and other documents obtained by the Herald outline some of the institutional organization that keeps the lights on and the ice cold in the monumental hockey stadium and athletics center, including the network of entities that work together to keep the project intact.

The arena, known to many as The Ralph, is managed on a day-to-day basis as a nonprofit under the control of RE Arena Inc., with further oversight provided by a distinct nonprofit known as UND Arena Services Inc.

But the stadium itself appears to be owned by Arena Holdings Charitable LLC., a private entity of Delaware. That company is controlled by local nonprofit UND Sports Facilities Inc.

Funding moves through these organizations to provide for the sports center's needs. Most of its revenues and expenses, including distributions to the UND athletic department, are recorded on the filings of UND Sports Facilities.

Kris Engelstad McGarry, daughter of the mega-donor for whom the arena is named, said in a May 9 Herald editorial board meeting that matters of the use and control of the arena have formed at least one part of a growing wedge between herself and the administration of UND President Mark Kennedy.

McGarry said Kennedy made "veiled threats" of litigation tied to what she described as the university's "insatiable need for money."

For his part, the president has said relations between the two have been civil. If there have been any disagreements, Kennedy said, they have arisen in the course of ensuring the arena is operated to fulfill the wishes of its donor as laid out in original gift documentation—namely, that the arena is run in all ways with the goal of benefiting UND and its athletic department.

The foundational documents, Kennedy has previously said, deal with both the financial distributions from the the stadium to the university "as well as the conduct of activities within the Ralph to the benefit of the UND athletic program."

"Whatever questions should come up, the answer should be, what's the interest of the UND athletic department," he said.

Through a representative, McGarry turned down Herald requests for comment this week. Her assistant told reporters the benefactor, one of three trustees who manage the philanthropic foundation that contains her father's fortune, would be in Grand Forks for meetings at the end of the month and would not conduct any interviews until then.

Jody Hodgson, manager of the Ralph and president of the RE Arena Inc. board, could not be reached for comment by press time. But Earl Strinden, board secretary and former CEO of the UND Alumni Association, stressed that "everything we do is for the benefit of the University of North Dakota."

Strinden is also listed on filings for tax year 2016 as being a director on the board of

UND Arena Services, as well as the president of UND Sports Facilities. Still, he deferred to Hodgson to explain in detail the interplay between the different entities, noting only that the groups play "specific roles" in keeping the facility running.

"(The arena) is a major enterprise, so we have lots of things we have to do to keep the building in top-notch condition," Strinden said. "Everything we do is to fulfill the mission as laid out in the vision of Ralph Engelstad—to make it as beneficial as possible, for the benefit of UND."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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