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The Alerus Center in Grand Forks. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

Alerus Center making $2.1 million in upgrades for better experience

The Alerus Center is making upward of $2.1 million in facilities upgrades to boost its venue experience in time for the upcoming UND football season.

Acting center leader Darryl Jorgenson said the city-owned arena is enhancing its sound system, lighting and wireless internet capabilities with a target completion date in late summer. The entry to center's suite section will also get a facelift courtesy of Happy Harry's Bottle Shops, which is redoing that area in its characteristic, barn-style exterior finish.

Jorgenson said the sound element should cost "probably less than $1 million," with $879,000 allotted for consulting and installation. The sound upgrade consists of a full replacement of the loudspeaker system that Jorgenson said was originally built into the center in 2001.

The new array will feature 45 speakers rearranged across the facility with increased ability for aiming and timing. The result of that should produce less of an echoing sound and better clarity across the seating and floor sections of the center, Jorgenson said.

The main concourse areas and suite boxes will also get updated speakers.

Jorgenson described the system as "state of the art" and said it would "sound much more musical and less like a school intercom."

The sound and other facility upgrades are part of a general capital improvement plan for the center, but their timing aligns with UND's plans to encourage a better football gameday experience for the fall season. City Administrator Todd Feland said the sound system is the "No. 1 thing we've heard" from the university in terms of facility priorities to make that experience happen.

Visitors to the center might also notice a brighter scene. The lighting in all areas of the Alerus is being updated to an LED system for about $871,000, a sum Feland said would create savings in the long run through energy efficiency.

The Wi-Fi signal boost will add capacity to the center's existing system to allow access for more users at a single time. Feland said that portion will cost about $400,000.

Finally, the Happy Harry's revamp of the suite section is expected to run approximately $60,000, Feland said. That sum is funded by the company and will include a reconfigured bar area. The chain of liquor stores is the sponsor of the popular Happy Harry's Beer and Bacon Festival held each year at the Alerus Center.

Beyond the more major upgrades being undertaken by the city and Happy Harry's, UND is making its own mark through field-level decorations themed after the university. Earlier this year, UND updated the signage on the Alerus Center to reflect its new Fighting Hawks logo.

Maureen Storstad, director of finance for the city of Grand Forks, said capital projects at the Alerus are funded by the city through a portion of its 0.75 percent sales tax dedicated specifically to the arena. That same tax also pays down the debt incurred by the construction of the center. The center's day-to-day operating costs are paid with the revenue it makes from hosting events, as well as with the city's 0.25 percent restaurant and lodging tax.

Alerus capital projects, such as the work being done now, are reviewed by the center's staff. Those employees are also tasked with inspecting the facility to determine areas that require work. Their projects are included in annual and six-year capital improvement plans which are included in city budgets and approved or denied by the City Council.

Storstad says the lighting and sound projects were set in city budgets prior to anything she'd heard about the push for a better UND gameday experience in the university's strategic planning efforts.

"They were projects that needed to be done," she said.

Feland said there was "some good coincidence" in the timing of the projects.

"It's good that it's in their strategic plan," he said. "When we're talking about better production value, some of that stuff will already be in place."

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