Lighting up the community
West Fargo Events and Cass County Electric Cooperative partner to energize neighborhoods
Written by: Kaylee Cusack, Communications Specialist, Minnkota Power Cooperative
With afternoon highs hovering around the 32-degree mark in West Fargo, the outdoor ice rink of Essentia Health Plaza at The Lights was packed on Dec. 12, 2021. It could have been the weather that pulled people to the ice, but the free skate rentals and hot chocolate certainly
This open skate experience was ignited by a collaboration between West Fargo Events (WFE) and Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) as a way to energize families in the region. It’s a mission that the organizations share, and they’re able to double their power by working together.
“There’s a connectedness there,” said WFE executive director Mike Amundson. “Sure, they are our power supplier, but it’s more than that. It’s the partnership to be able to get the word out that we’re doing things for the community together.”
Skating nights are just a small piece of the community culture orchestrated by WFE and its partners. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization was formed out of necessity when West Fargo Public Schools built the West Fargo Sports Arena in 2017. West Fargo city, school, parks and community leaders knew additional public spaces were on the horizon, and they would need a way to manage all of those nontraditional venues. They formed the nonprofit as a way to get it done with shared resources.
“But what we grew into is a community placemaking type of organization,” Amundson explained. “When The Lights opened up, we really got into programming with our Family Fun Nights and our Family Movie Nights, and eventually concerts came into the fold. We went from a nonprofit that acted somewhat like a management company on behalf of public entities to something much greater.”
The Lights – a mixed-use commercial, residential, and events complex developed by EPIC Companies and the City of West Fargo – was constructed shortly after the WF Sports Arena, within the arena’s real estate footprint. The Lights offers an open-air entertainment space (Essentia Health Plaza) for family events and concerts in the summer. In the winter, the space transforms into a public ice rink. In its first season in 2020-2021, the rink attracted 30,000 skaters in just over 12 weeks. The rate of use exploded this winter, with more than 12,500 people using the rink in December 2021 alone.
“The community reception is something really fun to be a part of,” Amundson said. “And it’s not slowing down. It’s wild.”
Amundson is responsible for keeping the plaza and neighboring sports arena programmed, safe and accessible to all. He’s also in charge of keeping the “lights on” with help from his team at the electric co-op. CCEC business accounts manager Chad Brousseau recalled his first
time meeting Amundson at the arena.
“He was wondering how they could better manage their utility costs over there,” Brousseau said. “We sat down and looked at the MDMS (meter data management system) data and identified times when both chillers were operational and set their peak demand for the month. It was an
opportunity to save.”
“Hockey rinks don’t happen without chillers,” Amundson said, adding that the outdoor rink also includes a large chiller system. He was able to incorporate heat recovery, demand management and smart scheduling into his energy planning to reduce overall usage between rinks. Brousseau and Amundson have already chatted about efficiency ideas for projects to come.
“Mike knows who to call,” Brousseau said with a smile. “And it’s been a two-way street with us, with the sponsored events they’ve helped us with. If we want to pull something off, we just say, ‘Let’s call Mike.’”
CCEC and WFE worked together to execute several outdoor events in 2021 as the community sought out safer opportunities for interaction in the wake of COVID. In addition to their open skate event, CCEC sponsored a free outdoor showing of Despicable Me, art and campout-themed family fun nights, and a community picnic – all hosted in the plaza of The Lights. The two organizations are already planning another docket of free family events throughout 2022. With the help of its business and civic partners, WFE successfully organized 120 events last summer – well beyond initial plans.
The number of full-time WFE employees has grown from 2 to 11 over five short years, and staff continues to field new inquiries from entities that want to get involved in vitalizing the region.
“When the community got a taste of what we could do, and we kept adding a little bit more and a little bit more, before you know it, that snowball got monstrous and started rolling down the hill,” Amundson said, a hint of awe in his voice. “It’s not what we thought we were building. It morphed into way more. And it’s been really cool and fun. We wouldn’t change anything about it.”
If you would like to support the efforts of WFE, consider donating to the nonprofit on Giving Hearts Day (Feb. 10) to have your donation matched. To find out more, visit GivingHeartsDay.org. For information on events happening at The Lights and in West Fargo, visit westfargoevents.com and follow West Fargo Events on social media.