The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 7, 2013

Mankato council moves rec facility moves forward

By Dan Linehan
The Free Press

MANKATO — The beginnings of a city plan to build a recreational facility emerged Monday, as Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said the next step is a study to see whether the proposal is affordable.

"Again, I think the next step in this process ... is to get down to the nuts-and-bolts feasibility study," he said. "The inventory of facility needs, beyond just hockey, needs to be planned out and the feasibility of operating and financing needs to be looked at."

He said there's already a model for such an endeavor: All Seasons Arena, which draws money from five local governments. The city of Mankato pays about 60 percent of those costs, Hentges said.

 Taxpayer support for a new hockey rink or recreational facility that could cost $4 million or more seemed like a foregone conclusion. Though it wasn't discussed explicitly, council members seemed to accept that the government would pay for some part of a potential project.

A recreational facility "has a multi-jurisdictional benefit and need and it has to have a multi-jurisdictional solution," Hentges said.

Mayor Eric Anderson added immediately: "No question, I agree."

Taxpayer support wouldn't be unique, considering the city's longtime payments for All Seasons Arena, but nor would it be routine; the city has turned away big-ticket funding requests for a children's museum and a senior center.

What, exactly, would be built is still an open question. It could be a hockey rink only or a larger, multi-use recreational building.

The Mankato Area Hockey Association has brought its proposal for a new ice rink to Blue Earth County and North Mankato. Board member Steve Hatkin said the group would support any proposal that adds space for its players, but said a larger facility would be more of a draw to visitors.

"From a MAHA perspective, I like them all," he said of the plans. "I really like the one that gets done tomorrow."

Councilman Mark Frost asked if a prospective rink would pay for itself, and Hatkin said it would.

But that's when you consider only the operations and not the loan you took out to pay for the place. And that's sort of like saying you can afford a car but can pay only for gas and maintenance, not the loan.

A plan to pay for construction is one of the items that this feasibility study will examine.