The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 20, 2014

Frederick: For arena upgrades, waiting's been the hardest part


The Mankato Free Press

---- — The eighth time, apparently, was the charm.

With funding for upgrades to the Verizon Wireless Center passed last week and expected to get Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, the long wait appears to be over.

The hockey part of the proposal, part of a bigger civic center project, has undergone several changes.

In 2007, officials wanted to build a women’s hockey rink that would also be the men’s practice facility across Riverfront Drive from the civic center. Remember that? Didn’t make it.

A couple of years later, drawings were unveiled for a two-rink city arena that would have been on or near campus. Again, that would have been the playing rink for the women’s team and the practice facility for both programs. The original grand proposal was scaled back to a single-rink and got into the bonding bill only to be chopped by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of three times he vetoed civic center bonding requests.

Even this latest plan – to remodel the downtown arena and house both MSU teams fulltime – took its lumps in St. Paul before finally looking like a reality today.

As the teams have waited and practiced at All Seasons Arena and downtown, they’ve watched as competing programs made major improvements to their facilities.

In Minnesota, Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth moved into brand-new, city-owned arenas built with state funds.

St. Cloud State has been undergoing a $30 million renovation to the National Hockey Center, a project partially funded by tax money.

Nebraska Omaha announced plans to construct a new, $80 million on-campus arena and plans to move in in 2015.

Last season, Michigan Tech redid its rink and hung a video scoreboard above it, and Alaska Fairbanks showed off its renovated locker room.

Even North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena, the crown jewel of college hockey rinks, announced recently that it is getting a major locker-room and team-area renovation this summer.

Just 13 years old, the building is 6 years younger than the Mankato building.

Mankato put in a new floor and rink system last summer and replaced the old red and blue seats with more appropriate purple ones.

That was just a start, according to plans shown to members of the legislative bonding committees a few months ago.

Drawings showed an ambitious redesign of the arena’s guts with new dressing rooms for the men’s and women’s teams on the west side of the rink, as well as visiting-team and youth locker rooms moved to the east side.

Also, there were coaches offices and a recruiting area, as well as a player lounge and space for athletic training, dryland workouts (weight room, etc.), and dining.

Seemed like the only thing not included in the project was video scoreboard capable of showing replays, which is a must someday.

Last August, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said that, after a recent tour of Bemidji’s now 4-year-old Sanford Center, the Verizon Wireless Center upgrades “will be far and away classier.”

Can’t wait to see it.

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