The battle between two of the state’s premier ice skating programs over ice time at Edina’s Braemar Arena may not be over yet.
Facing increasing demands for ice time from a thriving youth hockey association but wary of hurting its nationally prominent figure skating club, the Edina City Council voted 3-2 this week to give the Edina Hockey Association more hours at its city-owned arena.
But it didn’t give the hockey group anywhere near the additional hours city staff had recommended, and council members suggested that the issue be revisited in a couple of years to see how the reduction in hours affects the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club.
“We’ll get this figured out, but we need to figure it out together,” Mayor Jim Hovland said Monday night after the vote at City Hall. “We need to hang together as a community.”
The two skating groups are deeply split over the issue. In 10 hours of meetings last month with city officials who tried to mediate, the groups were unable to agree on a new policy for Braemar ice time.
Both groups have deep roots in the city and have made Braemar their home since it was built in 1965. One council member said the Skating Club was invited to make the arena its base to help make it financially feasible.
The 1,316-member hockey association has 10 times more members than the Skating Club, and more than 99 percent of hockey participants are from Edina. Just under half of the Skating Club members live in or attend school in Edina, but the group has national and international standing.
Ice time came up because of a City Council directive to set priority-use policies for city-owned facilities like the arena. Those policies give preference to groups that have a high percentage of Edina residents.
Although Braemar has three indoor rinks, from September to March two of them are used by Edina High School hockey teams in after-school hours until around 7 p.m. In prime hours, the other rink is used mostly by the Skating Club.
Edina Hockey Association President Ron Green said that means younger kids practice at late hours and spend only a fraction of their time at Braemar because of the shortage of ice times. Hockey families drive to arenas all over the metro to get to practices, he said. During hockey season, the association rents about 2,000 hours on Braemar ice.
To give hockey more Braemar hours, city staff had recommended that the Skating Club’s September-to-March hours be cut from 700 to 582 next year, dropping to 241 in four years. The Braemar manager would help the club find ice time at other arenas, staff said.
While council members Josh Sprague and Ann Swenson favored reducing the club’s Braemar hours, that recommendation was too drastic for Hovland and council members Joni Bennett and Mary Brindle. They said they were worried about the possible impact on the Skating Club, which belongs to the U.S. Figure Skating Association and must do most of its practicing in a designated home arena.
Bennett said she worried that a change in practice location could jeopardize the competition status of the club’s internationally recognized synchronized skating team. If the club left Braemar, she said, the arena would lose 800 hours of rental time from the group in spring and summer.
Braemar already operates at a deficit that usually hovers around $250,000 a year.
Hovland said the Skating Club had volunteered to give up 118 hours of its 700 hockey-season hours at Braemar next year. He suggested the club give up 159 hours of skating time at Braemar for the next two years, then see where things are.
“Nobody wants to see the figure skaters adversely impacted,” he said. “We need to go slow, and figure out what we can do.”
Sprague protested that the move underestimates the hardship for hockey families who travel from arena to arena for practice.
But the council voted 3-2 in favor of Hovland’s suggestion.
Green said the hockey association had supported the staff recommendation for more hockey hours at Braemar. He said his group will help the Skating Club find hours at other arenas.
“I want to make sure people understand that every hour of ice time at Braemar for [hockey] positively affects 17 to 34 families,” he said. “I think the mayor and City Council recognize that there is some inequality between our access and the club’s.”
He said the council action “will get us some more prime time over the next couple of years, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Brian Hedberg, president of the Skating Club, said he was grateful that the council “didn’t undermine one organization for the importance of another.”
“We’ve been great partners for many years, so it was a complete surprise that we were heading in a direction where the two organizations were essentially being compared to each other and that we would lose access to ice … based on participant numbers only,” he said.
He said that losing hours is a challenge but that the group would make it work. Braemar is the club’s home, Hedberg said, and the club wants to keep it that way.
At the council meeting, Brindle said she was concerned that no matter how Braemar’s ice time is shuffled, hockey’s popularity means that the association will still need ice at other locations. Hovland and Hedberg both mentioned the possibility of adding a fourth sheet of artificial ice outside of Braemar.
“All of this puts a lot of pressure on parents, on Braemar, on the surrounding arenas,” Brindle said. “We are going to be back here and talking about this again.”