In fall 2018, the City of Dickinson, N.D., faced the prospect of losing its only movie theater when a local mall decided not to renew its lease with Odyssey Entertainment Inc., which operates the Odyssey theater chain. The next closest movie theater would have been more than an hour’s drive away in Bismarck, N.D., so for the town of 30,000 residents—and approximately 1,400 students enrolled at Dickinson State University (DSU)—this would have meant the loss of a valuable community resource.
While the entertainment company decided to build a new multiscreen theater in town, the company still wanted to continue theater operations during design and construction of the new building. After several months of discussions among university staff, legal counsel, and city officials, we reached a solution: Odyssey would lease space from the university and open a facility on campus to serve the entire Dickinson community.
In December 2018, Odyssey opened two large-screen theaters in the DSU student center. The theaters, which primarily screen new releases, are open to the general public and feature stadium seating for 45 people and areas for ticketing and concessions. DSU students and staff receive a $1 discount on their tickets. The theaters operate year-round, even when school is not in session, with showings during the week starting at 4 p.m. and on the weekends starting at 1 p.m.
The Student-Community Continuum
Space for the cinema came from half of what we refer to as “the ballroom”—a large, open area within the student center that isn’t used daily but often hosts campus events and functions. The theater renovation tied in well with other significant changes to the student center initiated in 2018 by DSU’s previous president, Thomas Mitzel, that were truly centered on students. The remaining space in the ballroom, for example, now hosts events that are solely related to students. We moved our bookstore, which had been tucked away in a lower-traffic area, to the front of the student center where it has prominence and more retail merchandising space. We also relocated various offices from the student center to elsewhere on campus in order to make room for the admissions office. When prospective students visit, they now start their tours here, in the heart of student activity. In addition, the student center contains DSU’s information desk, lost and found, public safety office, and student mailboxes.
We made big changes to the building’s lower level as well, reconfiguring some of the space to provide a lounge area where students can relax by listening to music, watching large-screen televisions, or playing games such as foosball, table tennis, and Jenga Giant. One of the bigger changes came in 2019 when Sodexo, our long-standing food service provider, renovated the bulk of the student center’s lower level. Our dining facility—renamed The Perch in honor of DSU’s mascot, the Blue Hawks—now offers 15 food stations.
DSU and its partners also saw the reimagining of the student center and its accompanying renovations as an opportunity to strengthen the bond between the school and the Dickinson community. In this spirit, Sodexo prepares the food for Elder Care’s food delivery service to seniors and also encourages the public to dine on campus. Once a month, for example, The Perch is transformed into a formal restaurant that serves a fixed-price, five-course meal for a very reasonable $15 per person.
Another renovation in the student center that has given us an opportunity to be a community resource is our conversion of the old swimming pool into what is now the Sanford Sports Facility—an open area with batting cages and indoor turf. In conjunction with Dickinson Parks and Recreation, local youth soccer, baseball, and softball leagues use the sports facility to practice during the winter. In addition, for the last three years the approximately 200 DSU students who live on campus have received a complimentary membership to the West River Community Center, a fitness facility run by Dickinson Parks and Recreation. This facility offers access to weights, exercise equipment, an indoor track, an indoor pool, indoor racquetball and tennis courts, an outdoor pool, and aerobics classes for students during the semester to help them stay fit and healthy.
By leasing space for the theater to a third party, DSU has been able to give back to the community. By the end of 2020, Odyssey Entertainment Inc. will open its new eight-screen cinema in downtown Dickinson.
At that point, we aren’t sure what will happen to the two on-campus movie theaters, although there are many options. Our lease contract stipulates that Odyssey will cover the cost of its utilities and put 10 percent of revenues toward recouping its renovation costs, which totaled about $65,000. When the contract ends, the entertainment company has the option of returning the space to its original configuration within 30 days. Alternatively, DSU may be able to keep the theaters as currently configured—including the luxury recliners and projection equipment—by negotiating a price based on the depreciated value of the equipment at that time. The theaters could then be used for classes and presentations—and possibly for hosting viewings of esports tournaments, in support of DSU’s new esports club.
Dickinson State University is a well-established part of the Dickinson community, and we will continue to collaborate with local businesses and organizations as one way of reinforcing our connection with the town we call home.
SUBMITTED BY Laura Nelson, interim vice president for finance and administration, Dickinson State University, Dickinson, N.D.