By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A $2.6 million project to replace the ice sheet at Verizon Wireless Center will begin in two months with the city hoping its cost will be covered by a proposed bonding bill moving through the Legislature.
“The ice sheet has to be done no matter the financing,” said City Manager Pat Hentges during a news conference with Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. She was in town promoting Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal which includes $14.5 million for Mankato civic center expansion and renovation.
Kevin Buisman, MSU athletics director, said that while the ice sheet is needed, only approval of Mankato’s project in the bonding bill will allow MSU “to bring our men’s and women’s (hockey) programs down here permanently.”
Currently men’s hockey plays at the civic center but practices at All Season’s Arena, where the women’s team plays and practices. The bonding money would help build locker rooms, offices and possibly training room space at the civic center.
“This was a state-of-the-art facility when it was built many, many years go, but we’ve fallen behind in what is the arms race in college athletics,” Buisman said.
After years of being included in bonding bills by the Legislature only to be excised by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, supporters are hoping for better odds because of Dayton’s support for the Mankato bonding request. Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester officials also have sent joint letters to lawmakers voicing support for civic center bonding requests in all three communities. And Mankato officials have gotten support from key Republicans in the area.
Bonding bills need 60 percent support, meaning the DFL-controlled Legislature will need GOP votes to pass a bill. Hentges said that if history is any guide, the bonding bill will be the last thing considered for passage in the session, in about seven weeks.