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Convention is a first for Community Center

Posted 5/03/16 (Tue)

Convention is a first for Community Center

By Jody Michael
Crosby is the site this week for the annual North Dakota Newspaper Association (NDNA) convention, and 110 attendees from newspapers across the state will be filling the Guardian Inn and participating in events at the Crosby Community Center.
Accomodations for a group of this size -- 109 had registered as of Friday morning last week -- is something that Crosby is largely unaccustomed to.
While the community center has held a variety of events since opening in 2013, facility manager Bob Gillen said this event will be unusual for its need of multiple types of meeting spaces.
“The biggest thing for us is the movement of people between different areas of the building,” Gillen said. “We’re used to having one event at a time.”
Christine Molloy, the manager of the Guardian Inn, has less concern; from a lodging perspective, she said, the convention shouldn’t be much different from the occasional hockey tournament that draws large groups for a few nights’ stay.
“It’s just about making sure our rooms are 99.9 percent perfect and everything is stocked,” said Molloy, who reported Friday that “98 percent” of the hotel’s 69 rooms have been reserved.
The adjacent Bypass Restaurant and Lounge will be put to work for the convention as well, cooking a banquet meal for attendees at the Community Center and hosting some smaller group sessions and breakfasts in its meeting room.
To NDNA visitors who haven’t been to the area recently or ever before, the hotel and community center will also be symbols of Crosby’s transformation during the oil boom. Both facilities are part of the city’s newer growth to the south, and are perhaps the only reason Crosby is capable of hosting such an event.
“Without the community center, the only places you’d have would be the small meeting room at the Bypass, or else the Moose,” Gillen said. “We don’t want to compete with those, but if they’re too small or they’re booked, now we have this space for larger groups.”
Trying something new
Cecile Wehrman, publisher of The Journal, is preparing to welcome the NDNA members. As the president of the group this year, Wehrman had the privilege of suggesting where to hold the convention, though the planning began about two years in advance.
“I think Crosby has a surprising amount to offer,” Wehrman said. “Since we’re off the beaten path, people will be surprised to see what we do have.”
A small-town convention is not at all typical for the NDNA, which has tried it only once before in modern history, albeit to great reviews.
“There was a convention in Rugby in 1995. That was the last time it was held in such a small locale,” Wehrman said. “When I started going to conventions in 1999, that was the one I always heard about, that it was such a neat convention.”
While previous Journal publisher Steve Andrist also served a term as NDNA president, in 2001, he chose Williston for his convention, and he said he’s not sure how Crosby could have hosted such an event at the time.
“I suppose we could have used the school to do the meeting stuff, but I wouldn’t have known where to house people,” said Andrist, who is now the NDNA executive director and lives in Bismarck.
Andrist said he is eager not just for the gathering to be in his hometown but also for the guest speakers the NDNA has managed to attract this year.
Three Pulitzer Prize winners will give presentations Friday in a celebration of the Pulitzers’ centennial, and Republican gubernatorial candidates Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Burgum and Paul Sorum have agreed to a debate Saturday morning at the community center. Each of those sessions are open to the public.
“The program we have is top-drawer,” Andrist said. “We’re not just bringing our members to Crosby, but I’m excited to bring some high-caliber journalists and give them a chance to see what rural North Dakota is like, and to have our candidates for governor as well.”
Good for business
The benefit for local businesses of bringing such large events to Crosby is not lost on anyone involved in preparing for the NDNA contingent.
“It’s great to get the business for a small town,” Molloy said. “Usually something like this is in Minot or Williston, so we hope everything goes well having it here.”
While the schedule of events leaves very little time for the NDNA members to explore the town, Crosby Area Chamber President Denise Johnson said she hopes visitors will make time to patronize the business district.
The chamber is lending a hand in that regard by providing Crosby Bucks and gift bags to NDNA participants, as well as sponsoring Friday’s social.
“Certainly there’s a benefit to businesses if they eat or fill their gas tank,” Johnson said, “and what’s good for one is good for all. It trickles down.”
The chamber is also looking forward to welcoming another statewide organization to Crosby soon: The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives will be in town for a board meeting the first week in July.
“It’s not quite as big, but we’re expecting 30 couples,” Johnson said, “which means spouses are coming along.”
Gillen said he’s been in talks to bring more concerts and even roller derbies to the community center -- and if everything goes well with the NDNA, more entities might choose to convene in Crosby as well.
“If it’s anything like the hockey crowds we get, people will leave a lot more impressed with this place than they thought they would be,” Gillen said.
“In a big city, there are so many distractions, it tends to splinter the group,” Wehrman said. “In a small town, there’s a greater chance for networking.”
Wehrman said she’s enjoyed hearing talk around town about the convention.
“The interest and excitement has surprised me,” she said. “People in the community want to welcome our guests with open arms.”