Many folks seem to agree that this community needs a domed practice facility, capable of hosting games for some sports and practices for others during the inevitable bad weather.

This year's never-ending winter has re-energized the discussion about artificial-turf fields and a protective bubble to keep away the cold and snow and give the local athletes an option for honing skills.

What this plan needs is a leader.

A few years ago, Austin built a new sports complex that includes two artificial-surface football fields, one of which includes a seasonal bubble, with a price tag of about $5 million.

Once upon a time, Minnesota State proposed a privately funded, $31 million upgrade to all of its outdoor athletic venues, but the sticker shock was among the reasons it never gained much traction. Included in that plan was a sports bubble, about the size of 1 1/2 football fields, at a cost of $6 million.

There's probably a more cost-friendly option, but there's no doubt that a sports bubble in Mankato would have nearly around-the-clock usage for most of the year. That might also be one of the problems. A lot of entities would want access to a bubble, probably more that can be adequately accommodated.

That's why it's important for a leader to emerge.

Nearly every Minnesota State program that plays outdoors would benefit from a sports bubble. Spring football practice has been comical at times in the snow. The baseball and softball teams are playing "home" games at any out-of-town venue they can find, and an indoor practice facility would do wonders for these athletes.

But if Minnesota State builds a facility, would there be much time left over for the local high schools or sports associations? Minnesota State has been gracious with Myers Field House for indoor track meets the last two weeks, but the university's students and athletes get the prime times, leaving little left for anyone else. In the previous proposal, Minnesota State promised community access.

And belts are being tightened at Minnesota State. Money to fund a sports bubble would be tough to find.

Mankato schools could certainly build a sports bubble, but probably not two. The debate about whether Mankato East or Mankato West would be the host would turn ridiculous, though surely that could be worked out. However, school districts don't have extra money.

The cities of Mankato and North Mankato seem like the logical owners of a sports bubble, but municipalities don't have extra money to fund such projects, and another sports tax would be a tough sell.

A sports bubble is a good idea for this community, but who's going to take the lead? Until that decision is made, the project will remain just talk.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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