To say Ralph Engelstad was picky when it came to constructing the Ralph Engelstad Arena in
Grand Forks is putting it lightly. The man had something to say about nearly everything in the building, from
the paper towel dispensers to the over 11,700 leather seats throughout the arena.
According to Chris Semrau, Ralph Engelstad Arena’s director of media relations, Engelstad’s
attention to detail and his desire to find the right price on everything in the arena paid off.
Semrau said the same building could have easily cost $300 million in a different area or with
a different man in control, but Engelstad and his business sense kept the costs to a “meager” $104
“He should not have gotten this much for the dollar amount,” he said.
However, the amenities crammed into what locals simply call “The Ralph” are impressive to say
From the outside, the arena was designed to give the building an inviting look. Large windows
allow fans on the outside to see the excitement the building contains during a major event. In addition,
about 1.1 million bricks give the building a more traditional, college-campus look.
“It was done to kind of give it that collegiate feel,” said Semrau.
Although impressive enough from the outside, the interior of The Ralph has been raising
eyebrows around the world. A walk into the glorious main entrance of the arena gets things started.
One of seven North Dakota Fighting Sioux logos lies embedded into the granite floor, the
university’s seven NCAA Division I hockey championship trophies stand proudly on display, the Midwest’s
largest skylight looms overhead and a pro shop generating $1 million in annual apparel sales quickly let
visitors know that they are in a world-class facility.
The hallways are lined with the faces of UND hockey history. Pictures of former All-Americans
and alumni who played in the NHL proudly sit above the granite floors (100,000 sq. ft. in all) of the
concourses. Alumnus includes former stalwarts with Canada’s National Junior Team such as Troy Murray
(1982) and James Patrick (1982, 1983).
At ice level, the arena takes on the look of a shrine to hockey. Each of the seats in the
building are padded leather, there are 48 luxury suits, bars at each end of the arena and a $380,000 restored
organ made by Belgium’s prestigious Theofiel Montier company.
The arena also boasts an eight-sided scoreboard with video displays and a Daktronics Video
Fascia Ring which sits between the upper and lower bowls. The Fascia Ring is basically a video screen that
circles the rink.
The arena also features its own media production center, where the arena is capable of
broadcasting games on satellite television. “All of our college games are available on satellite all over the
United States,” said Semrau.
Another feature with the arena is that fans can go just about anywhere and not miss any game
action. There are 300 television sets located throughout the building – even in the washrooms.
The luxury of the arena clearly extends to the players. During the 2005 World Junior
Championship, players are able to use a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room, an underwater treadmill and other state
of the art training facilities.
For those wondering how a city of 50,000 landed such an amazing facility, the answer lies in
the aforementioned Ralph Engelstad. He wrote the $104 million check for the arena as a gift to the University
of North Dakota.
“It’s one of the largest donations ever in higher education,” said Semrau.
Engelstad, a former UND goaltender and native of Thief River Falls, Minn. hit it big when he
sold a piece of land in Las Vegas to the famed aviation businessman Howard Hughes.
Engelstad later acquired a Las Vegas hotel which became the Imperial Palace, the world’s
largest privately owned hotel. Engelstad also constructed a NASCAR race track in Las Vegas, and the Imperial
Palace Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Miss.
Engelstad died on Nov. at the age of 72 following a battle with cancer.