Alerus Center task force to set recommendations tonight

Grand Forks' Alerus Center task force is expected to wrap up its work tonight with a series of recommendations for fixing the city-owned events center.

The Alerus Center
Alerus Center

Grand Forks' Alerus Center task force is expected to wrap up its work tonight with a series of recommendations for fixing the city-owned events center.

Many of the recommendations are organizational in nature. For example, members of the commission that runs the building should have term limits.

Other recommendations could have far-reaching impact. For example, the City Council should ask voters to expand uses of the three-quarter percent sales tax now dedicated to paying the Alerus Center's debt and for building improvements. One proposed use: Paying for operational losses with the tax instead of using scarce economic development funds.

The council formed the task force two months ago after a yearlong buildup of bad news, including those operational losses, threatened to undermine the reputation of one of the city's biggest investments.

The goal of the new group, made up of the council and six members of the public, was to rebuild the public consensus on the mission of the $80 million-Alerus Center.


Here's a brief run down of some of the draft recommendations the task force discussed at its meeting a week ago:

- If the commission were to take a risk on a major concert, it would have to get funding from the council first. The fact that the Alerus Center often guaranteed that performers would make a certain amount, often in the hundreds of thousands, unnerved some council members who felt the commission had handed the city a financial obligation without council approval.

- The Alerus Center should review its mission given the changes in the competitive environment. When it opened in 2001, it didn't have to compete with Winnipeg's MTS Centre and UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena. It also didn't have the advantage of the Canad Inns hotel water park complex next door.

- The council should seek a public vote on allowing the three-quarter percent sales tax to pay for operational losses.

- If the commission reports the economic impact of its activities, it must use the net impact, which leaves out events that would otherwise have come to town in the absence of the Alerus Center. Commissioners and other allies of the events center have long justified operational losses by pointing at the economic impact, but critics have argued that Grand Forks would've gotten some of those events anyway.

Nevertheless, there is still no clear consensus on the task force on whether the impact should even be reported.

- The Alerus Center should try to break even in its operations given that it also benefits from a quarter-percent lodging tax as a built-in subsidy.

- The commission should have seven at-large members serving a maximum of two three-year terms. Some commissioners now represent specific interests in the city, such as the restaurant industry and UND. There are no term limits, though that may be because few have been willing to serve and deal with the controversy. Some council members suggested that the job should go to task force members.


- All meetings of the commission and its standing committees must be announced to the public and they should produce more detailed minutes. One of the pieces of bad news from last year was the unannounced meetings by the commission's Executive Committee. The commission has since changed its policy.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to .

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