The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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January 7, 2013

Amenities said to be key to MSU hockey team's future

MANKATO — If Minnesota State University's men's hockey team is to keep playing games at the Verizon Wireless Center, some upkeep -- especially new boards and a new ice-creation system -- is necessary.

"We've got our fingers crossed this year that we can get through the end of the year," coach Mike Hastings told the City Council Monday.

Those upgrades are expected to be completed this summer.

But, separately, he believes the hoped-for expansion of the civic center should add some amenities to the hockey program.

"We're just looking for an environment to house our student athletes so they can compete at the level they're expected to compete," he said.

That might mean a weight room, medical facilities and a room to study inside the civic center.

But the final designs for the expansion haven't been completed, so MSU doesn't know what sort of amenities it's going to get.

"We need to get some more clarification on what some of these improvements will be," said Rick Straka, MSU's vice president for finance and administration.

He is, in other words, asking the City Council to go all-in by agreeing to spend the money to design in detail a project that hasn't been funded yet.

The City Council got an update Monday on the status of the expansion project, and seemed to support another year -- the sixth in a row -- of seeking state funding. Only one councilor, Mark Frost, explicitly supported the request, but no one objected to the notion. A resolution for a request to be considered in any state funding this session is likely to come up at a future meeting.

The work session was also the first for two recently elected councilors, Chris Frederick and Jason Mattick. Frederick asked plenty of questions, and Mattick kept silent.

Several of Frederick's questions were probing the extent to which MSU would benefit from the expansion, which would be half-funded by the local sales tax.

"It's almost an extension of MSU's campus," he said.

Hentges defended the spending as part of the city's partnership with MSU, and necessary to maintain the school's competitiveness.

"Most of the recruits played high school hockey in an arena better than the one they practice in," he said, referring to All Seasons Arena.

Frederick didn't oppose the project, but wanted a commitment from MSU that they would remain a paying renter at the civic center.

Straka said it would be "political suicide" to abandon the civic center and build an on-campus rink.

In a possibly related issue, Hentges told the council he recommends against asking the Legislature to expand the local sales tax this session. It would complicate the civic center request, and it would be more likely to pass muster if the city developed a specific plan on how to spend an expanded sales tax.

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