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Our View: Outdoor rink is reasonable compromise

Members of Woodbury's youth hockey community came out en masse last week to a City Council meeting to argue their case.

Plans for the new Bielenberg Sports Center, the boosters argued, ought to include a third indoor ice sheet. The hockey supporters say they already can't get enough ice time at Bielenberg during mid-evening hours, so they take their money to communities like River Falls, Wis., or South St. Paul, where they can rent rinks during those times.

Unfortunately for the youth programs, those prime hours in Woodbury are gobbled up by high school teams at Bielenberg.

Families involved in the youth programs have a reasonable expectation of being able to get their kids on the ice at reasonable hours. Neither parents, players nor coaches want to be heading off to practice at 5 or 6 a.m. - or 10 p.m.

The city, hockey supporters argue, should build a third indoor ice sheet at Bielenberg to accommodate the demand. And demand will grow, the hockey supporters say. As more Woodbury land is developed into housing, that growth will bring in more families with hockey-playing children.

The hockey folks have a point.

Unfortunately, they're making their case too late in the game. The city's process is well beyond the idea stage. As past coverage in the Bulletin has chronicled, the idea of a third indoor ice sheet had been raised during earlier rounds of discussion and passed over in favor of a concept calling for a refrigerated outdoor rink - a concession made during the process.

But timing isn't the only factor working against the hockey boosters. City research shows the cost of building the third indoor rink wouldn't be justified by revenue. In short, even if youth teams were able to practice at a third indoor Bielenberg sheet, the fees they would pay wouldn't generate enough funding to balance the books.

All this creates an awkward prospect that pits the hockey community - a group that wields considerable influence and financial leverage - against the city, which provides the facilities. We all want to see hockey flourish here in Woodbury, and hope the city's plan doesn't sour the local associations into taking more of their money elsewhere. Some at the meeting hinted that could be the case.

We see the outdoor sheet - which city officials now say could come equipped with boards to allow for hockey practice - as a reasonable compromise. It's worth remembering that plan designs call for the outdoor sheet to be converted to an indoor facility in the future - if the concept becomes financially feasible.

The best planning is often done in phases, and the city of Woodbury has a track record of accomplishing phased development for decades - with success. An outdoor rink that allows for conversion sounds like a reasonable Phase 1 offering to us.

The city is already staking $21.8 million into this new facility, a move bemoaned by local tax hawks, though the proposed funding plan means the project won't involve new taxpayer dollars. It's not clear how the project would be funded if its cost soared by at least another $6 million.

Though we support the quality-of-life benefits the new sports center will bring to the community, we don't see how tacking on a financially unstable addition that would grow the cost by almost a third of the current price tag represents a responsible move.