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Fargodome General Manager Rob Sobolik gives a tour of the facility to Special Olympics representatives on Monday, Nov.10, 2014 in Fargo, N.D. David Samson/FNS

F-M set to wow 2018 Special Olympics USA selection committee

FARGO, N.D. - North Dakota faces tough competition in its efforts to bring the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games to Fargo-Moorhead, but leaders are confident they can get it done.

A big event in a small city will garner more attention locally than if it were held in a metropolis like Seattle, the other finalist to host the games, said Kaia Watkins, a marketing specialist with Flint Communications of Fargo. Flint is one of the organizations on the local bid planning committee.

One example Fargo bid planners pointed to was ESPN's "College GameDay," which visited Fargo for a second straight year in September. The event arguably got more attention locally in Fargo-Moorhead than anywhere else it's been hosted.

The six-member Special Olympics USA 2018 Selection Committee toured facilities at North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College, and several other sporting venues in the metro area on Monday.

Mike Furnish, a member of the Special Olympics USA 2018 Selection Committee, said the committee looks through the eyes of its athletes when it decides who will host the games.

He said committee members want a host that will show its support for the games, adding that not many places compete with North Dakota when it comes to community and fan support.

The Fargodome would serve as the venue for many events, including the opening ceremony. Members of the selection committee seemed impressed with the dome.

"The Fargodome would be a very nice venue for the event," Furnish said. "We wouldn't be here if we didn't recognize it as a good place."

The committee will tour Seattle later this month and is expected to decide in early 2015, Furnish said.

Hosting the games won't be easy.

The event would cost about $12 million to put on and organizers would need thousands of volunteers.

Kathy Meagher, president and CEO of Special Olympics North Dakota, said the state supports the effort, which was crucial for the planning committee before it submitted its bid to the selection committee.

Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said NDSU is another key player that supports the effort.

Area colleges would be used not just for venues, but to house athletes and staff.

North Dakota Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley spoke to the selection committee at a reception Monday night at West Fargo's Max Lounge.

The selection committee and bid planners will tour other potential venues in the F-M area today.

The Special Olympics USA event - a competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities - is held every four years. It was in Ames, Iowa, in 2006, Lincoln, Neb., in 2010 and New Jersey in 2014.

June's event in New Jersey featured nearly 3,500 athletes from all 50 states competing in 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports. It brought 70,000 visitors and an estimated $80 million in economic impact to the state, according to Special Olympics USA Games.