Hockey clubs rally for more indoor ice at BSCIn a slightly contentious meeting Wednesday Woodbury city officials explained to the hockey community that there is simply not enough demand to support a third, enclosed ice sheet.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
In a slightly contentious meeting Wednesday Woodbury city officials explained to the hockey community that there is simply not enough demand to support a third, enclosed ice sheet.
There is, however, demand for an outdoor refrigerated rink, an expanded field house, a larger lobby and meeting space at the Bielenberg Sports Center.
With standing room only, members of local hockey clubs packed a room at City Hall to speak on their desire for a third indoor ice rink.
At this point in the process, the council was due to approve the preliminary plans, schedule the bond issuance and move ahead with the $21.8 million expansion project.
But last night’s meeting brought up a discussion regarding a $6 million feature that local hockey players, coaches and parents have been rallying for.
“It’s a little bit frustrating when I see your largest client being cast off to the side,” said Tom Jakubik, a hockey parent who’s been going to St. Paul, Cottage Grove and South St. Paul arenas for their lower rates and available prime time hours. “We are having an impact on our community.”
With added population growth, Jakubik said predictions indicate 19 more hockey teams will need a place to play. With that comes 855 hours on the ice and about $179,000 in revenues.
“We are the state of hockey,” he added. “I want that third arena. Let’s make it happen, let’s cut back on a few things.”
Plans to expand the Bielenberg Sports Center started with the need to replace an aging bubble.
A citizen task force comprising of various members of the community, including hockey representation, came up with a design plan that would make the center sustainable and appealing to the general population, Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said.
There seems to be a disconnect and lack of communication amongst the hockey groups about the data that city officials and the task force have been using to support their plans for the center, she added.
“Hockey is very limited,” she said following the meeting. “And it’s also very expensive to operate.”
With plans to double the size of the field house and add a permanent structure, city officials say the center will be here for the long haul. Additionally, there is potential to enclose the outdoor rink if there is enough demand from hockey clubs in the future.
Jakubik said only one member of the task force, Woodbury Area Hockey Club President Pete Stuckert, has an interest in hockey and that the majority of members were representing field house sports like soccer, football and baseball.
“It was always explained to me that the third sheet of ice was never considered,” he said.
Pope Architects’ Bob Howard presented the three-dimensional plans one more time for the council and attendees Wednesday.
The lobby will be expanded with a viewing area to the field house and ice rinks. There will be upgrades to the interior that hasn’t been painted or remodeled since the 1990s.
The field house will have room for advertisers to put up banners, which may bring in some added revenue.
But city staff did not account for additional revenues in a study they did to see if the center will meet the debt service, operating expenses and capital equipment replacements.
Staff assumed rental revenues will reflect fewer hours being rented in the first several years of operation to account for a gradual increase in the rental of prime time hours.
Parks and Recreation Director Bob Klatt said there have been discussions with major user groups, including area athletic associations and high schools, who projected their use of the facility.
The Woodbury Area Hockey Club had a long-term agreement with the city to rent 1,800 hours every year. That agreement ends this December.
But the club still needed more hours, so it’s been buying between 600 to 800 hours at Harding arena in St. Paul, Cottage Grove and Wakota Ice Arena in South St. Paul.
The club is projecting to use 1,200 hours next year and go elsewhere to take advantage of available prime time hours, Jakubik said.
“We feel that we’re not obligated to buy anything in January, February, March and if we can get it at a cheaper rate … that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
The dilemma lies where those 5, 6, 7, and 8 p.m. practice times are at.
High school hockey players want the arenas at that time, so do Pee Wee players and the figure skating club.
Still, the city’s study shows the expanded sports center will generate just enough revenue to pay for $361,000 in annual debt payments, and $142,000 for future capital replacement costs.
Council Member Amy Scoggins, who sat on the task force, said she went into it with an open mind, and so did the rest of the group.
“It didn’t make economic sense,” she said of a third ice sheet.
City Administrator Clint Gridley said he would hate to add all those features to meet all desires and needs, and then come back to the council in a few years and say the center is not able to pay the bills.
He said current plans allow for a variety of uses – more meeting space, a bigger lobby and an improved concession area. An outdoor rink will provide a better skating experience at least for leisure skaters and free up some ice time at the indoor rinks, he said.
“We feel there is something for everyone,” Gridley said. “This has been a really carefully balanced project.”
Citing Vadnais Sports Center financial woes and plans to avoid similar troubles, he said the city is confident the current plans will sustain a thriving community asset.
“You add a third sheet of ice on top of what we have, we don’t have confidence in that,” Gridley said.
The plans and public process began in 2010, with an architect hired earlier this year.
“To say all of a sudden we should add a third ice sheet, with all due respect, that question is a question for a year ago,” Gridley said.
Wednesday’s discussion brought on the possibility of adding boards to the outdoor rink, though, which could change hockey players’ minds about practicing outdoors.
Klatt said he plans to meet with athletic groups to discuss that additional option before the plans are finalized.
The Bielenberg Sports Center expansion project will be partially funded with reserves and the rest will come from tax reallocation money. No property tax increases are proposed.
The council came to a consensus to issue the debt in January to take advantage of even lower interest rates than July’s 2.98 percent, which have now dropped to 2.56 percent.
Interest savings increase the available project funds by $576,895.
Council Member Paul Rebholz was a little hesitant to issue the debt prior to finding out what construction bids come in at.
If bids come in $1 million higher, that’s more money taken from reserves, he said.
“If you’re unsure of this project at all, we should not issue the debt,” said Tim Johnson, the city’s finance director.
All five council members agreed the project is a go with construction starting in April 2013. The low interest rates also add a sense of urgency to move ahead.
The council is set to take an official vote on the debt issuance following a public hearing on the tax reallocation plan Wednesday, Dec. 12.