MANKATO — Numerous questions remain about the feasibility of adding an indoor ice rink in Mankato, but city officials expect to have most of the answers by mid-March, City Manager Pat Hentges told the All Seasons Arena Board of Directors Friday.
“We hope to have that locked and loaded in about a month,” Hentges told the board, made up of representatives of the two-rink arena’s owners — Mankato, North Mankato, Blue Earth County, Skyline and Eagle Lake.
A shortage of ice time for youth hockey players and other skaters has been a problem going back more than a decade, and it’s only getting worse, said Eric Boelter, a board member of the Mankato Area Hockey Association.
Boelter told the ASA board about a recent meeting of the MAHA board.
“We had parents yelling at us because their kids weren’t getting on the ice,” he said, saying the number of young hockey players has grown 31% since 2013 when an independent study concluded that more ice sheets were clearly needed.
“I don’t think there’s any disagreement that something needs to be done,” said Steve Romnes, a Skyline City Council member who represents that city on the ASA Board.
An expansion of All Seasons Arena appears to be the option now favored by MAHA, adding a third sheet of ice and improving the cramped lobby and over-capacity parking lot.
The problem is the facility — built in 1973 at the corner of Monks Avenue and Balcerzak Drive — is now surrounded by apartment complexes.
City staff is asking a pair of contractors to determine the cost of building a third rink. And an engineering firm that designed the apartment complexes has been hired to look at the feasibility of rebuilding those units to allow land to be sold to the arena.
“We think, based on numbers we previously had that are being checked now, it’s about $10 million,” Hentges said of expanding All Seasons.
A similar expenditure could probably build a new arena at some other government-owned parcel of land, with site acquisition and utility work adding $2 million or more to the cost.
While land acquisition is likely to be even more expensive at All Seasons, there are advantages in having all three rinks in the same place. And All Seasons Arena — operated by Mankato Area Public Schools with Jared Larson as arena manager — has a history of efficient operations and balanced budgets, Hentges said.
MAHA is just one of several organizations pushing for improved youth sports facilities in the Mankato area using proceeds of the half-percent local sales tax. The Mankato City Council has decided it can afford to spend up to $10 million in the near term on sports and recreation facilities, but the cost of the requested projects totals $25 million or more.
Another $10 million in sales tax-backed bonds could be sold later in the decade, but none of the organizations wants to wait a half-dozen years or more to start construction.
Earlier this week, Hentges told City Council members that the costs of an ice rink project will be nailed down by their March 23 meeting, along with “a path forward” for financing the two costliest requests — the ice rink and an indoor swimming facility that would potentially be built as part of a new east-side YMCA. He said the path would all but certainly require a substantial amount of private fundraising.
The ASA Board, which typically meets only quarterly, decided to hold a special meeting on April 17 to discuss the results of the ice rink studies and any indication of the City Council’s support for the project.
With three board members coming to the ASA Board just last year, the extra meeting will also be useful for exploring the arena’s finances more closely, according to Romnes.
“I feel like I joined a sitcom that’s been going on for 10 years, and I’ve seen one episode,” he said.
The council might also be feeling a bit overwhelmed after March 23 when it will begin the task of prioritizing requests that include new family-friendly water features at the Tourtellotte Park municipal pool, new and improved youth ball fields, and additional pickleball courts favored by elderly Mankatoans.
“There’s a lot of things for the council to consider on our portion of this,” said Council member Dennis Dieken, Mankato’s representative on the ASA Board.
Hentges agreed, telling Boelter that MAHA isn’t the only organization frustrated with facilities that haven’t kept up with growing demand.
“They have hockey players with tears in their eyes, but I also have youth softball players with tears in their eyes and youth baseball players with tears in their eyes,” he said.