Voters reject $140 million Fargodome expansion

Movers and shakers in Fargo got a sneak preview of the fate of their $140 million ballot measure to expand the Fargodome, when West Fargo school district voters soundly rejected a $147 million referendum. Two months after West Fargo voters’ turned down a tax hike, their Fargo neighbors followed suit, rejecting the Fargodome facelift.

In another low turnout election, 52 percent of the roughly 8,000 residents who bothered to cast a ballot voted for the makeover, well short of the 60 percent needed for passage. Supporters of the failed ballot measure told KFGO that residents’ aversion to higher taxes will cost Fargo in the long run.

Had the measure passed, it would have meant a quarter-cent sales tax increase, and 3% lodging tax increase over the next 20 years.   

Deb Mathern co-chairs Fargodome Reimagined, the committee that pushed for the project. She said there is no “Plan B.”   

“I’m extremely disappointed that people didn’t understand the importance. I think a lot of people just heard the word tax and didn’t think through it or delve any further. At this point, there will not be renovations done to the Fargodome and there will be no convention center. It’s a detriment to our city. We will move backwards while cities like Grand Forks and Bismarck continue to move forward,” Mathern said.

Besides losing at the polls, the Fargodome and West Fargo school district campaigns bear additional similarities that may offer clues to the outcome.

–The proposals contained similar-sized tax hikes of $140 million and $147 million

–Both measures fell well short of the 60 percent mark for approval

–Both campaigns resulted in low voter turnout

While acknowledging the voters’ clear cut verdict, city leaders did not back off their assertion that something still needs to be done to improve the Fargodome’s competitiveness.

Charley Johnson, who leads the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he was disappointed in the vote results, but that discussions now need to happen about what the community wants.

“As far as meeting space goes, I’m not inclined to give up during whatever time I have left on this job. I still think that we need meeting space in this town, and that it would be an economic boon in a business sense that would permeate into the entire community. So we’ll see if there are some other options to try and get that accomplished,” he said.

In other words, the fight to expand and renovate the Fargodome is far from over. What that means for taxpayers remains an open question.