MANKATO — After years of waiting, advocates of more sports and recreation facilities in Mankato are seeing signs of activity.
The mammoth footprint of the sports bubble at Minnesota State University is becoming more obvious as construction crews build the footings for the 108,000-square-foot facility.
At Bethany Lutheran College, synthetic turf is being installed at its new soccer field this week, making room for a planned fieldhouse or sports bubble nearby.
And at City Hall, staff and consultants are scrambling to complete a trio of feasibility reports on proposals for a new ice rink and renovations to youth ballfields and the municipal swimming pool.
“We want everything completed by Nov. 1,” Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said of the feasibility studies. “Then it will be a discussion of timing, what gets (prioritized), opportunities for state bonding.”
The biggest endeavor is the independent examination of a hockey arena proposal unveiled in May by the Mankato Area Hockey Association. The facility, to be built at the intersection of Victory Drive and Highway 14, was described in a lengthy MAHA document including an $18-20 million estimated cost and about $8 million in promised private donations and sponsorships.
The City Council had previously approved feasibility studies of upgrades to the city-owned Thomas Park youth softball complex, finishing touches for the youth baseball complex adjacent to Rosa Parks Elementary School, and a major renovation and expansion of the Tourtellotte Park pool.
This summer, the council added an independent feasibility study to pin down more detail on the ice rink proposal, including construction costs, revenue potential from ice rental, the timing of pledged donations and more.
In the ensuing months, the price estimate for the ice rink has risen to $20.5 million, not including the cost of running sewer, water and streets to the site — currently a farm field on the northwest quadrant of the Highway 14/Victory Drive interchange.
“We’re having some things verified on that,” Hentges said of the construction estimates.
Staff are also pinning down the expense of bringing roads and utilities to the site and attempting to gauge how those costs would be split between the ice rink, a large east-side YMCA which may be targeting a neighboring lot, and planned residential and commercial development.
City officials have talked to the owner of the parcel where the ice rink would be located. The Kent Schwickert family suggested they are open to donating their land but would expect the hockey association and the city to share in the costs of roads and utilities, according to Hentges.
The owners of the adjoining parcel that may house the YMCA have inquired about possible tax increment financing assistance but don’t intend to explore the feasibility of the proposed development in detail until February.
The Nov. 1 deadline is in place for a couple of reasons. Later that month, the council will be finalizing its 2020-21 two-year budget and its five-year construction plan. Proceeds of the half-percent local-option sales tax would be the funding source for the city-owned park projects, and MAHA is looking for sales tax revenue to fill much of the gap between hockey arena costs and private donations.
In addition, the Minnesota Legislature is expected to approve a major statewide construction program financed with bond sales, something commonly called a bonding bill, by spring of 2020.
The prospects for legislative funding are slim, Hentges said, because most local government bonding requests were submitted this spring. Requests can still be made this winter, but the late-comers are unlikely to be included in a proposed bonding bill from Gov. Tim Walz.
“You’re kind of swimming upstream,” Hentges said, adding that it often takes several attempts over several years to get a local project funded. “I think it would be highly unlikely for a large-scale bonding request — multi-million-dollar — to get it in the first try.”
MAHA isn’t alone in seeking private donations for a new facility. Bethany is gauging the willingness of donors to support an $18 million student fitness center and fieldhouse on the former site of the college’s baseball field — a project that could be downsized to a fitness center and seasonal sports bubble for an estimated $12 million.
“The college continues to raise funds for future activity spaces, but we’re in the very early stages of the campaign, and not ready to announce additional projects or publicize gifts and commitments to the project at this time,” said Lance Schwartz, a spokesman for Bethany.
Certain to be the first project completed is MSU’s sports dome, located just south of the parking lots south of Stadium Road. Funding is in place for the $5.5 million inflatable dome, and construction is underway on the dome footings and the building that will provide the dome’s lobby, restrooms and other support space.
The dome, which is expected to offer about a third of its available time to youth sports organizations and other community users, is projected to open by Dec. 1.