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Published September 23, 2013, 03:03 PM

Bismarck might have edge in convention competition

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center will give Bismarck an edge in the competition for conventions, the head of Fargo-Moorhead's Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center will give Bismarck an edge in the competition for conventions, the head of Fargo-Moorhead's Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., lack a big convention space with adequate meeting rooms, Charley Johnson told The Forum newspaper. The president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead CVB supports the idea of adding on to the Fargodome or building a convention center downtown.

"I think we need it to compete, not only with the other cities in the state but other cities regionally of our size that have convention facilities that are more conducive to actual conferences and conventions instead of what we have here now," he said.

Fargo city commissioners in July approved spending up to $95,000 for a Chicago consulting company to study the best course of action. The study is expected to be completed in early October.

Fargodome General Manager Rob Sobolik said an expansion of the facility that hosts football games, concerts, theater shows and other events would give the dome a dedicated space for exhibits, conventions and conferences.

"All we've got to do is find a way to pay for it," he said.

Construction on the $27 million expansion to the Bismarck Civic Center started in July and is expected to be done by next May, in time for a major oil conference that drew more than 4,000 people from 47 states and several countries over three days last year. The annual Williston Basin Petroleum Conference alternates between North Dakota and Canada.

Voters in Bismarck last November rejected a $90 million Civic Center expansion proposal. City leaders last spring approved the scaled-down project, which did not require public approval because it will not be funded by tax dollars.

Mayor John Warford said city commissioners "still felt that we needed to do something" because of a consultant's studies that found the city was missing out on convention business.

Even the smaller expansion is "going to give them a little bit of an advantage" in attracting conventions, Johnson said.

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