The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 10, 2012

Our View: Multi-use facility the way to go

The Free Press

— A push for a new ice arena in Mankato or North Mankato has been on for some time, but it recently morphed into a grander plan for a regional sports complex that could possibly double as a Blue Earth County fairgrounds.

The concept isn’t entirely new. For years there have been discussions about the idea, but it came to the forefront as the All Seasons Arena management and Mankato Area Hockey Association approached Blue Earth County commissioners about partnering in a new ice arena, tentatively planned for near North Mankato’s Caswell Park softball complex.

Combining a new ice arena with a larger regional sports complex and fairgrounds would mean the project would be in Blue Earth County with land likely purchased to the east or northeast of Mankato.

It’s an attractive concept that would provide space for uses by a variety of groups and allow for a broad combination of public and private funding.

While there is fairly strong financial backing through privately raised funds by the hockey association, other groups — including soccer, youth baseball and tennis — don’t have as much financial power to help build more fields and facilities.

Combining multiple use facilities — such as domed and open fields that could be used for baseball practice or tennis and soccer — brings a cost benefit.

Adding a county fair component — where buildings could be converted for use for animal showing, trade shows and other fair and community uses — makes the plan even more appealing. Anyone who’s visited the state’s largest county fair in Owatonna can see how well the model there works.

Blue Earth County’s fairgrounds in Garden City, while beautiful, has always held back a more successful fair because of their distance from Mankato and limited buildings and amenities.   

A multi-use regional sports complex also would bring more visitors and economic impact via regional and state tournaments and trade shows.

Public financing would fall largely to Blue Earth County, Mankato and likely the school district. North Mankato could be expected to help finance a new ice arena as it fits with their current involvement in funding All Seasons Arena, and more local ice sheets would benefit the large number of North Mankato hockey players and skaters. Expecting North Mankato’s support for the rest of the complex, which would be somewhat similar to the Caswell Park complex, would be more of a stretch. North Mankato didn’t seek Mankato or Blue Earth County support for Caswell.

Private sports and recreation associations also would have to step up to contribute for a new complex that would benefit their members.

The plan will need more airing and input from all of the involved groups in the months ahead. But it’s a concept that should be embraced enthusiastically.