The Alerus Center, Grand Forks’ premiere entertainment and convention facility, is the culmination of many years of hard work by the leaders and visionaries in the area. Although most public facilities of this type face an uphill battle in getting funding approval, the Alerus Center also overcame a second public vote of confidence, a historic 210 year flood, a redesign, and a roof collapse before becoming the jewel of the Grand Forks crown in February of 2001. To better appreciate the enormous task of bringing the facility from a vision to reality, here is a short project history, which actually begins many years ago.
1984: The Grand Forks Civic Center – built in the 1950s as a National Guard Armory – was serving as the city’s convention center. City leaders hoped to expand the downtown facility and add on a large arena to host basketball games, concerts, and other events. The public vote to fund the expansion with a new sales tax was close, but failed.
1992: After 8 more years, City leaders again felt the need to update their convention facilities, noting the newer and larger buildings in other North Dakota cities. A special committee, appointed by the mayor recommended a new convention facility built on the southend of town.
The public vote failed by a margin of 2-1.
1995: With the FargoDome’s success to the south and the Civic Auditorium getting more antiquated every day, City leaders again bring up the idea of a new events center/convention facility. A Civic Center Process Committee is formed to generate public discussion and gather input. Led by City Council member Doug Carpenter and Mayor Michael Polovitz, the committee holds 14 public hearings, sets up 12 informational displays, and does a telephone survey to gauge public sentiment. Upon the committee’s recommendation, a special election is set to see if the public will raise the sales tax to support a multi-purpose events center that has an arena large enough to hold football games as well as a convention facility. On November 28, the special election is held and 60% of voters approve raising the sales tax to build the new facility.
1996: An Events Center Core Committee is formed, consisting of the mayor and 4 council members from the previous committee, to oversee project design and construction. The City hires a local architectural joint venture team to design the building (Schoen & Associates and Johnson Laffen Architects who eventually bring in the nationally renowned Ellerbe Becket), CPS Ltd. as the civil engineer, and M.A. Mortenson as the construction manager. A naming contest is held and the building is called “The Aurora” after the Aurora Borealis or northern lights. When the first schematic design is completed and estimated, it is determined that the building is $17 million over the original estimate. Although the City Council has the authority to spend the additional funds, they instead schedule a second special election to get approval from the public. The election is held on December 3 and voters narrowly approve spending the additional funds. Work continues on the project.
1997: On April 19, 1997, the City experiences what would be called a 210-year flood event. It forces the evacuation of nearly all 50,000 residents and causes an estimated $1 billion worth of damage. Miraculously, no one is killed in the event, however the city is virtually shut down. The Aurora is put on hold for a short time while City leaders try and rebuild.
1998: The project is redesigned to raise the arena floor (a result of the flood event) and construction proceeds. A foundation-building ceremony is held in July to commemorate the beginning of the project.
1999: While under construction on the ground, the building’s roof system collapses. No one is injured. Work on the project is rescheduled and no time is lost. Replacement parts are ordered and the new roof is completed and raised into place a month later. The City hires Compass Facility Management to manage the facility.
2000: Alerus Financial buys the naming rights to the building and officially names it Alerus Center.
February 10, 2001: The Grand Opening of Alerus Center is held with over 25,000 people coming to celebrate and view the finished project.
Alerus Center has become everything it was envisioned to be – an exciting place for residents to enjoy a variety of entertainment activities and a superior convention facility that generates sales tax dollars for the community. It is because of the vision and hard work of many, many people over the years that resulted in its completion.