By: Amy Dalrymple and Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, INFORUM
BISMARCK – More than 3,400 people from 49 states and eight foreign countries are registered for next week’s Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, with more expected to register when the conference begins May 20.
About 4,000 people attended the conference when it was last in North Dakota two years ago, making it the largest event Bismarck hosts.
“We’re on track for where we were two years ago,” said Tessa Sandstrom, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
This year’s conference, May 20-22, features a speech by conservative radio and TV personality Sean Hannity and presentations by Bakken CEOs Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, Jim Volker of Whiting Petroleum and Tommy Nusz of Oasis Petroleum. An additional 154 people are signed up so far just to see Hannity.
Attendees are coming from every state but Hawaii, seven Canadian provinces, Cameroon, China, France, Nigeria, Norway, Singapore and the Virgin Islands.
Hotels in Bismarck-Mandan and some outlying communities are full, with additional rooms being set aside as far as Jamestown and Dickinson, said Sheri Grossman, chief operating officer for the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We’re really excited to have it here,” Grossman said. “We’ve been working hard to get everything ready for them.”
The expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center’s Exhibit Hall will be “substantially completed” to accommodate the petroleum conference, Civic Center General Manager Charlie Jeske said. Staff will start setting up booths Thursday and vendors will begin moving in on Sunday, he said.
“There’s still an awful lot of work that needs to be done, but we’re just going to basically have the shell done, and that’s what we promised,” Jeske said.
The expanded area will house about half of the 588 vendors expected to set up in Exhibit Hall, Jeske said. Thirty to 40 exhibitors, some with heavy equipment too big to fit inside the Civic Center, will have displays outside, he said.
Parking on site is limited, and the CVB will run shuttle buses to and from hotels and the Bismarck Airport, Jeske said.
The Bismarck City Commission voted in March 2013 to spend $27 million to double the size of Exhibit Hall to 100,000 square feet, after voters the previous November rejected a ballot measure that would have raised the city’s hospitality taxes to generate nearly $70 million for a $90 million Civic Center expansion and renovation.
City leaders justified the decision by citing a consultant’s studies that found the city was leaving convention business on the table and by raising concerns about possibly losing the lucrative Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. The event drew about 4,000 people to Bismarck in May 2012 and generated $1.9 million worth of business, according to the Bismarck-Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
This year, attendees are anticipated to spend about $2.5 million while in Bismarck-Mandan, Grossman said.
The approved expansion project is being funded with revenue from the city’s existing 1 percent lodging and restaurant tax.
The Civic Center will host the Antique Roadshow on May 31, after which Exhibit Hall will be turned back over to general contractor Scull Construction to finish the facility, Jeske said. The remaining work includes finishing the interior walls, masonry, windows, a walkway around the building and LED lighting instead of the construction lighting that will be in place during the petroleum conference, he said.
The project should wrap up by October or November, he said.
For more information about the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and the full agenda, visit www.wbpcnd.org. Registration is $600 through Monday and $700 during the event.
Tickets to see Hannity speak at 9:30 a.m. May 22 are available for $25. Free Bakken education sessions will be offered from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m. on May 20 at the Ramkota Hotel Ballroom in Bismarck.