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Watford City Rough Rider Center

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Grand Forks has The Ralph and The Betty — its famous hockey and basketball facilities named after their benefactors, the Engelstads — and now Watford City has a football field it can call The Freddy.

Named for its longtime winning coach, Fred Fridley, the field will see its first action at 7 Friday night, when the community will turn out to see the Watford City Wolves in homecoming action on a new playing field at the new high school.

As if all that weren’t enough, the big game is only part of the day’s show. Starting at 2 p.m., folks are welcome for the first time to walk through the front doors of the adjoining Rough Rider Center and have a sneak peek at what’s in store at the 268,000-square-foot convention, recreation and athletic facility.

The $80 million center will open for business at 8 a.m. Sept. 24, giving the community access to a competition swimming pool with on-side water play features, two sheets of hockey ice, a gymnastics center and climbing wall, multiple courts for volleyball and basketball, a batting cage and a walking track.

An upper-level convention-banquet facility sits on a soaring concourse with concessions, a ticket center and observation windows.

A lower-level tunnel connects to the high school, and the two buildings are visually joined in architecture and building materials on a shared campus atop a high hill overlooking the community.

The final price tag for the Rough Rider Center is about $92 million, to include the sports fields and site work, according to Mayor Brent Sanford. Figuring in the cost of the new high school next door, Watford City now boasts side-by-side facilities worth a total of about $140 million.

Those are big numbers, but the city’s financial commitment to the Rough Rider Center doesn’t worry the mayor.

“These things are staggering to think about, but six years ago we were spending millions just to rehabilitate and remodel some of our buildings. To move forward to a permanent population gain, we need whole new facilities,” he said.

A share of the city’s 1.5-cent sales tax will go toward a $40 million bond payment, and the remaining $52 million will be covered by the city’s share of oil gross production tax revenue.

“I feel confident that we can manage that,” Sanford said. “Even though things have slowed, the sales tax and gross production tax have leveled off to a decent point. The midstream activities in oil are still strong and people are still moving here.”

It’s the mayor and city council’s job to worry about the finances. For Laura Sanford, the Rough Rider Center business manager, the facility promises to bring opportunities for shared social and recreational experiences unlike anything in its history.

Events including concerts, weddings, a festival of Christmas trees and a grand opening Nov. 5 are already on the schedule with more information at

Laura Sanford also likes the nooks and crannies in the center, the Perks and Rec Café, for example, where good coffee and healthy food will be available in a lounge area, and parents whose kids are in gymnastics or hockey can sit for conversation or with a good book while they wait. Or, she says, they can spend the hour walking laps on the walking track and get some beneficial exercise.

The center will have five full-time staff, including park and recreation and food service, but facility manager Flint Christensen said the various organizations, such as hockey and gymnastics, will be in charge of conducting their own programs and schedules.

“We’ll have a skeletal crew for what goes on in here, and we’ll coordinate space arrangements, but, otherwise, it’s all hands on deck,” said Christensen, adding that the center is a reflection of the town’s changing demographics with the emergence of new people and new interests coming to the forefront.

“People are here from all walks of life with all these varying interests, and it’s all playing out here,” he said.

Laura Sanford has enlisted Rough Rider ambassadors, volunteers who will help with traffic flow and other jobs at events, along with a fundraising committee.

There’s a week between today’s sneak peek and the actual opening, and there is, like with any major construction project, a flurry of last-minute work that will happen in that time.

“There’s not too much pressure. We’re pretty close, considering we were shooting for a window a year out,” he said.

Mayor Sanford said the Rough Rider Center has been on the top of the list for two years and it’s been quite something to watch it rising out of the ground.

“We will be so proud to showcase this,” he said.


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