The expansion of Mankato area recreational facilities touches every part of the community, and so the city’s plans for prioritizing funding will not make everyone happy.
But the City Council’s recent analysis of priorities and decision-making needs fine-tuning. A report to the council showed almost every recreational group suggested growing demand for its activity from pickleball to swimming and from softball to hockey.
But the report seemed to be missing a detailed analysis of the demand for each activity and while some councilmembers appeared to question some of the needs, there wasn’t enough healthy skepticism for decisions allocating about $16.5 million from city sales tax and internal capital funding.
And Mankato’s spending should take into account North Mankato’s spending. While the Mankato plan calls for a $4.1 million expansion and upgrade of the Thomas Park softball complex at Mankato East High School, North Mankato will begin this fall a $5 million project to upgrade and expand Caswell Park. Together the two projects would add three “championship” fields.
The $3.8 million upgrade to Tourtellotte pool should be considered in the context of the significant upgrade and remaking of the Spring Lake Park pool in North Mankato, which has a 1,200 person capacity and amenities like a zip line that are not contemplated for Mankato.
Urgent repairs to the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center were the biggest ticket items requiring $11 million, with only about $4 million of that coming from the money set aside in the civic center capital replacement fund.
The report to the council noted almost every civic center item was at the end of its lifespan or past it. Several capital items had not been replaced since civic center construction in 1995.
Some 20/20 hindsight suggests a much bigger yearly contribution to build up the civic center depreciation fund.
The civic center expenses for a new roof, new exterior wall panels partially destroyed in a windstorm, repairs to mechanical systems, a boiler and a chiller plant as well as the ice plant are a heavy lift and crowd out sales tax funding for other needs.
The report to the council cited strong demand for pickleball even though there are six courts at Tourtellotte, space to play at the YMCA and a new private developer bringing a new 37,000-square-foot pickleball facility to Mankato on 8 acres offering eight more indoor courts.
The council still appears to favor the doubling of pickelball courts from six to 12 at Tourtellotte at a cost of $475,000.
These priorities crowd out funding for what many have seen as the biggest need in Mankato recreation: the addition of one or two more sheets of ice and an ice arena.
Hockey is a growing youth sport, according to an in-depth study done a couple of years ago. Mankato has a reputation as a hockey town with the nationally ranked men’s hockey team at Minnesota State University. The city will host Hockey Day Minnesota in January with arguably the worst capacity for hockey among similar cities.
The plan to wait until 2026 or 2027 to consider sales tax of about $9 million or $10 million as a 50 percent cost share with the local hockey association seems to be adding five or six years of delay on a project that was needed five years ago.
There are no easy choices. Removing Thomas Park and Tourtellotte from the plans would free up $8 million in sales tax funds for the ice arena. A case can be made that we already have adequate facilities serving swimmers and softball players.
The council will ultimately need five of seven votes to approve new facilities funded by the sales tax. We encourage residents to weigh in on those final decisions as the current plan seems duplicative and needing a sharper focus.