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City officials believed that revenues generated by the facility would cover debt service.
When that didn’t happen, Vadnais Heights paid the debt service for a while before walking away and leaving the facility to the nonprofit, which is putting it up for sale.
Projections also proved incorrect five years ago in Waconia, where the city and the Waconia Hockey Association built an ice arena for $6.6 million. The hockey club fell behind on its ice sales pledge and had to renegotiate its contract, making the city full owner.
Waconia’s payment this year on the facility is $559,000, of which $95,000 goes to cover a shortfall in operating expenses, City Administrator Susan Arntz said. The operating loss grew this year, she said, because the city added staffers to work on boosting the arena’s revenues.
In Forest Lake, the $4.5 million ice arena built in 2008 by the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association wasn’t in debt. The nonprofit volunteer group just didn’t have the resources to operate the two-rink facility.
So the school district decided in May to buy it for $3.3 million, a markdown from the arena’s $5 million market valuation.
The main tenant will be the athletic association.
Kruse identified what he said was the biggest problem faced by new ice arenas: creating enough programming to keep the place humming as much as possible.
The adage of “build it and they will come” isn’t true, he said.
“You will not magically generate thousands and thousands of participants,” he said. “Just building a facility will not do it.”
Tournaments should be scheduled in off seasons and shoulder seasons and not in prime time, he said, much as they do it at the National Sports Center. “We don’t need to sell ice in the winter,” he said.
It’s not that there isn’t enough skating time, Kruse said, just that there aren’t enough ice hours that are considered convenient.
“The prime hours for youth hockey are 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.,” he said. “If you asked [the hockey associations], they’d all love to skate at 7 every night at a rink 5 miles from their house.”
Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035