The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 11, 2012

Frederick column: With or without state money, arena needs upgrades


MANKATO — I started working at The Free Press 12 years ago, and my family has lived in the same house since moving here from St. Paul.

We’ve done a few things with the place over that time, remodeling a family room and a bathroom when we were able, putting on a new roof when we had no other choice.

But looking around the place, there’s a lot more that needs to be done. It’s an old house, so the list of projects is almost endless and is starting to include some items that looked just fine when we moved in in 2000.

Windows need repair, ceiling tiles need to be replaced, light fixtures need updating, etc., etc., etc. It all has to be done sooner than later, and the Frederick family simply will have to find a way to make them happen.

The first hockey game played at the Verizon Wireless Center took place in 1995, and 17 years later, the arena is in need of more than just a fresh coat of paint.

The city of Mankato has acknowledged this and has plans to fix up the place as part of a civic center expansion plan unveiled last year.

The plans turn the arena into the permanent, every-day home of the Minnesota State men’s and women’s hockey teams with new locker rooms, new training space and refurbished offices. There are important wish-list items like purple and gold seats and a state-of-the-art video scoreboard.

But it also includes necessary and, in some cases, overdue repairs, like replacing the out-dated ice-making system and arena floor, getting new dasher boards and glass and spiffing up a bench area that is in disrepair. (For the last few years, a spot on the visiting team’s bench has been held together with a piece of lumber and some hockey tape; I’m not sure I would impress anyone by taking such a tactic with my living room ceiling.)

During this year’s legislative session, a request for state bonding money to be put toward the project was left out of the final bill sent to the governor’s desk. In the past, Mankato’s requests made their way into bonding bills only to be vetoed (three times) even as other monies were approved for arenas in Duluth, Bemidji and St. Cloud.

On Monday, it was revealed that another request, this time for money available from the state economic development agency, was ranked well down the priority list, mostly likely leaving Mankato out of the running for those limited funds.

When Minnesota State hired Mike Hastings as its new men’s hockey coach, Hastings immediately talked about the program’s facilities and the upgrades necessary to get MSU on par with other teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

This was before the bonding money was gone.

“We’re going to make sure we bat this thing out of the park with the bonding issue,” he said in that April press conference. “But it’s about answers, not about problems. If that doesn’t get done, then we have to find another way to get the facilities taken care of. And if we need to do that, we have to turn to the people in this area, and we will find a way.”

Plan C, anyone?

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.