The Beginning Of The Road

Mandan Park District’s goal in Mandan, N.D., is to increase the quality of life by creating a sports complex for the community through an increase of ¾ of a cent in the city’s sales tax. The district hopes this complex will attract new businesses, attract new residents to the area, create a strong sense of pride for the community, make a difference for the youth, and encourage a progressive community.

The discussion to increase the sales tax began in April 2013. The park district met with Mandan Horse and Saddle Club, Mandan Rodeo Committee, Bismarck/Mandan Stock Car Club, Men’s and Women’s Softball Clubs, Girls and Boys Basketball Club, Mandan Baseball Club, Mandan Hockey Club, Dakota Star Gymnastics, Soccer Club and Mandan Public Schools to gather input on the various groups’ needs.

In the spring of 2014, the district invited members from each group to a meeting about the proposed sales tax. A representative from each group provided input regarding what facilities they would like to see improved and discussed ideas. A survey was then put online for other community members to share their opinions, which resulted in the decision to move toward a sales-tax initiative. The consensus was to purse a complex for hockey, track and field, baseball, and gymnastics. The school district would operate, coordinate, and maintain the facilities. The park district then decided to delay its current facility improvement needs because of the overall community needs.

Pursuing Sales-Tax Funding

The park district chose a sales tax so both residents and non-residents could fund the project. The new complex will bring new people and tournaments into town, contributing to the sales tax. The only other means of funding discussed was property tax, but since it would only affect Mandan residents, the sales tax was selected as the ideal funding method.

The amount of increase in the sales tax was decided right before the measure was added to the ballot. There was discussion whether the measure should increase the sales tax by ½, ¾, or 1 percent of a cent. The estimated cost of the complex is $22 million contributed from Mandan sales tax and $1 million contributed from the Mandan Hockey Club. The ¾-cent sales tax would generate $22 million over an estimated 16 years. The calculation takes into account the population and demographic change within that time period.

Getting The Word Out

After the measure, which was placed on the ballot on June 9, 2015, was approved by the park board and the city commission, it was the park district’s job to begin to inform the public on the facts. Approximately 50 presentations were scheduled and conducted for different user groups and organizations throughout the community. Three public-information meetings were scheduled for the public share their input. One public meeting was held each week prior to the election. Mandan Park District asked attendees to provide input on site location, ask the architect in attendance any questions, and share their opinions. Each presentation was tailored to the audience.

One of the most influential presentations was given at Mandan High School. The director of the park district, Cole Higlin, spoke to the senior government classes. The goal of the presentations was to inform the students how powerful a vote can be and to reach the 18-year-old demographic. The seniors had the power to tell their friends and families to vote for a better future for them and their younger classmates. 

The park district felt it was important to show sales-tax comparisons with those of other cities in the state, along with how nearby towns were spending their sales-tax dollars. Within the past few years, four cities had passed a sales tax to implement a new facility. When comparing sales tax from city to city, Mandan ranked in the mid-to-lower percentage. Other comparisons were made to show the need for the complex.

The most important element to educate the public was the issues with the current recreation facilities. Each facility needed some type of major improvement, whether from lack of space or age of the facility. The park district held tours to show the public what exactly needed improvement. For example, the Dakota Star Gymnastic facility struggled to meet safety and competition requirements and was not handicap-accessible. Additionally, the plumbing and electrical infrastructures were failing, and the facility was inadequate for the growth of the gymnastic program. At the ball diamond, the lack of space for the increasing number of participants caused a need for a cap, rather than allowing anyone to register. During each presentation, the district bore in mind the demographic that was being represented, as some may not have seen other facility improvement needs—only their own. After presenting the issues at each facility, it was important to explain how the new complex could offer additional opportunities.

After researching the community’s needs, the park district let residents know that the district was listening. For example, the community had a big need for indoor space. The hockey arena had one sheet of ice with no room for expansion and a failing chiller system. The park district informed the community that if the sales tax were to pass, more indoor space at the hockey arena would be available for other activities because the activities in the current arena would be moved to the new complex. The arena would also be available for school district activities, such as physical education classes during school hours, high school sports from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., park district youth and adult programs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., open gym for the public, and recreation tournaments.

The presentations also helped clarify the difference between large purchase products and the daily local-store products. The park district provided many examples of how much an average consumer spends with and without the sales tax.

A Vote Yes Coalition reached out to specific members of the user groups to educate, answer questions, ask for letters of support from businesses, hand out flyers, and go door to door delivering “Vote Yes” yard signs.

The Next Phase

Mandan voters approved the ¾-cent sales tax. The unofficial tally was 1,564 to 1,222, a difference of 342 votes. The next step for the park district was to select a site location, an architect and a construction manager, form a building committee and an owner/design committee, and develop a facility-usage agreement with the school district. The facility-usage agreement allows the school and park district to be fiscally responsible with the sales-tax dollars. The agreement benefits both the schools and the park district, helping minimize expenditures for both entities. Each joint facility is assigned priority to the school or park district, along with fair rent costs between the two. Both districts agreed to develop a Facility Advisory Board to administer a long-term maintenance fund for all shared facilities.

After forming the necessary committees, the park district met with all user groups to create a need versus want list to be considered for the amenities in the complex. With so many committees and varying opinions, challenges occurred with specific design components, budgets, staying on task, and all of the committees understanding the specific needs of the complex. For example, currently the building committee is trying to coordinate how spectators will access the facility even though they will only need to be in certain areas of the building.

Public Information

Just as communication was important in passing the sales-tax measure, keeping the public informed continues to be a priority. The park district offers a bi-weekly e-newsletter that includes the latest information. A bi-weekly article is also published in the local paper.

The park district also saw the significance of developing a logo for the sports complex for brand recognition and brand recall. To help the community feel involved in the project and recognize the progress that is taking place, the district also asked the public for input on the logo’s final design.

The Mandan Sports Complex is still in the design-planning stage. It is predicted to open in August 2017.

Kelly Churchill is the marketing specialist for the Mandan Parks & Recreation Department in Mandan, N.D. Reach her at