Facing decreased demand and “prohibitive” costs to replace ice-making equipment, the hockey rink on the State Fairgrounds is experiencing its final slapshots, bodychecks and glove taps, fair officials said.
The removal of the Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum ice rink at the end of the season in February will mean relocation challenges for numerous high school playoff games and various teams come 2014-15.
Among those needing to look for a new hockey home: Hamline University women, St. Paul Como High School boys, numerous large-school boys section playoff games, the Roseville and Langford Park youth associations and the Adult Hockey Association.
Fair officials said the ice-making equipment was installed in 1975 and the pipes that circulate coolant have deteriorated beyond repair.
“To continue operating, the antiquated equipment would need to be completely replaced, and that option is cost-prohibitive,” the fair said.
The 5,200-seat coliseum now hosts just a fraction of the games it did in the 1980s and early 1990s, when it was home to several high schools, the University of St. Thomas and Hamline men’s teams and the semipro St. Paul Saints, fair officials said. Together, those teams played nearly 150 games a year in the building.
That total is now about a third of what it had been, the officials added. Per-hour rental by teams or informal groups of players also is down by a similar amount.
“This type of decision is never easy, but we’ve reached the point where we are out of options with our ice infrastructure,” State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer said. “It’s questionable that the equipment and materials will be operable after this year, and we don’t want to promise our client teams something that we can’t deliver. We owe it to them to give them as much time as possible to begin preparations for next season.”
The State Fair will continue to use the coliseum year-around by expanding its schedule of retail and special events into the winter months.
When not hosting hockey, the coliseum is home to numerous horse and cattle shows, and it houses many small businesses in the concourse during the State Fair each year.
The original Hippodrome was erected in 1906 on that site and in 1909 became home to the St. Paul Athletic Club hockey team, which went to the national finals in 1922 and 1923.
In 1942, the Hippodrome was converted for the war effort into a government-run propeller plant. After World War II, it was deemed unsound structurally and torn down.
What is now known as the coliseum opened in 1951, and hockey returned there in 1975.