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Woodbury council: More feedback needed on HealthEast hockey rink canopy

City officials plan to seek more public input on a proposed canopy over the HealthEast outdoor skating rink.

Members of the Woodbury Area Hockey Club, the group behind the proposal, say the $1.7 would would extend the skating season and help generate revenue during slow periods.

Discussions on the project stem from a contract the city penned with HealthEast in April to re-name the arena formerly called the Bielenberg Sports Center.

The health care giant pledged $1.8 million over 14 years to change the facility's name to HealthEast Sports Center. When the contract ends in 2031, HealthEast could opt for a five-year extension to the title for an additional $1.5 million.

In their proposal, the hockey club offered a $200,000 down payment.

They also pledge to purchase 550 total indoor and outdoor ice hours, which they estimate would generate $110,000 in revenue each year, including concessions sales.

Patrick Sondreal, president of the hockey club, said the canopy would shield the ice from sun and precipitation — conditions he said have cut back on time the hockey players and leisure skaters can use the ice.

The club's proposal comes two years before the end of their contract with the St. Paul Harding Arena, which hosts about one-third of its teams' ice time.

Although the club's membership grew by 15 percent last year, Sondreal said the loss of the arena could hurt membership numbers and put a strain on existing members.

"I'm concerned about the long-term health and viability of the hockey program," Sondreal said, adding the Harding Arena "is one significant maintenance issue away from shutting down."

City staff, however, cautioned against moving forward with the project immediately.

Parks and Recreation Director Bob Klatt recommended against approving the project for now in an Oct. 18 memo, citing insufficient funding and timing that was "not right."

Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said the city must first finalize a public input-gathering process for use of the naming revenue, as discussed during the HealthEast contract negotiations.

"If we want to consider this, I think we need to set up a process to receive ideas and proposals for everyone, because that's what we promised," she said. "And we'd have to consider them."

The council directed staff to develop the public commenting process to be discussed at a November meeting.