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ENGELSTAD ARENA: Cost to top $80 million

Architect working with want list, not budget

By Michael Benedict
Herald Staff Writer

The new Engelstad Arena is expected to cost in excess of $80 million.

The price tag for the arena was estimated at $65 million to $70 million in September, and the estimate before construction started was about $50 million. Interviewed Monday, a principle with the architectural firm that designed the arena said Ralph Engelstad never mandated a $50 million budget for the arena.

When Engelstad, a UND alumnus and casino owner, announced a donation of $100 million to UND in December 1998, he said then that half of the money -- $40 million to $50 million -- would fund the new arena.

Engelstad and UND didn't know then where they would spend the remainder.

The casino owner declined to talk to the Herald for this article, but through a spokeswoman, he did confirm the arena will cost "$80-million plus."

"All I know is we're trying to build what Ralph wants," said James Kobetsky, the principle with the building's design firm, Schoen Associates. "We didn't really have a budget. (He) was telling us what to design."

At the end of 1998, Engelstad also didn't know what such a facility would cost, said Earl Strinden, emeritus chief executive officer of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

Strinden said Engelstad came up with the $40 million to $50 million total based on other university arenas he toured before his donation announcement.

Strinden said the new Engelstad with its 11,400 seats won't be the largest university arena in the country.

"It will be a facility that will be the finest in the world," Strinden said. "It will be a diamond."

He said UND President Charles Kupchella and Engelstad continue to discuss the remainder of the $100-million gift.

Among highlights that weren't included in initial thoughts, a building connected to the arena that will contain an indoor, Olympic-size ice sheet for practice and other community needs.

The extra building cost several million dollars, Strinden said.

"Ralph and UND wanted to get everything in they wanted," said Kobetsky, adding material costs are lower here than in other areas of the country. "At this point, we're getting very good value for the money.

Another highlight is a 3-foot-high, 900-foot-long video screen that wraps the arena for instant replays, scores and "more excitement."

Called dasher boards, the boards that will surround the main building's NHL-size rink also are spring-loaded. The boards flex four inches on impact, which will lead to fewer hockey injuries.

In large construction projects, there are always add-ons, but, with 95 percent of the building's contract bids now final, Kobetsky said he doesn't anticipate costs will continue to increase.

"These are the kind of things (Engelstad) spent more money on," Kobetski said. "He knows exactly what he wants in the facility to make it more successful."

Through his Arena Construction Inc. and Ralph Engelstad Arena Inc., Engelstad technically owns and operates the new arena, but he does plan to give it to the university soon after it's completed, said Strinden.

For charitable tax reasons -- to prove the property valuable -- Engelstad's lease agreement with UND, however, state's he can own the facility until Sept. 30, 2030.

"His full intentions are that it will be turned over to the university in the very near future," Strinden said. "I do know in my visit with him, he will turn it over."

Any profit the facility makes in his ownership, Engelstad plans to donate to UND athletics.

Grand Forks Herald, October 17, 2000