Vadnais Sports Center bidder cuts programs

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2013 - 1:24 PM

Northern Educate, the top bidder for the complex, is ending two programs just months after expansion.

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The Vadnais Sports Center

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Northern Educate, the Eagan-based company that runs academic and athletic youth programs at four Twin Cities arenas and which beat out Ramsey County in its bid to buy the troubled Vadnais Sports Center, is cutting operations in two communities.

Northern Educate, which blends intensive training in sports that include hockey, figure skating and lacrosse, with an educational curriculum, has been operating under lease arrangements at four Twin Cities arenas: Vadnais Sports Center, the National Sports Center in Blaine, the Eagan Civic Arena and the Eden Prairie Community Center. It also runs programs in Iowa and Rochester, N.Y.

National Sports Center operators have been told Northern Educate is ending programs there on Friday, said Barclay Kruse, the center’s chief communications officer. At a meeting earlier this week, Northern Educate officials also said that Shawn Black, Northern Educate’s president and co-founder, had stepped down and that the company had left open the possibility of reviving programs next fall, he added. The program in Blaine has six students — three figure skaters and three hockey players.

The city of Eagan, meanwhile, was told that Northern Educate also will cease operations there on Friday, said Tom Garrison, city spokesman, though no written notification has been given. The city and Northern Educate have a contract for the 2013-14 school year.

In Eden Prairie, the city has a similar school-year contract. Wendy Sevenich, who manages the Community Center, said operations were continuing as normal. About a dozen students participate in Northern Educate programs there.

At Vadnais Heights Sports Center, Northern Educate’s on-site manager referred inquiries to Craig Woodcroft, Black’s partner and co-founder. Calls to his office and home in Missouri were not returned, nor were those to officials with Community Facility Partners.

It’s not clear how the cutbacks will affect the company’s $13 million bid on the sports center which, unlike Ramsey County’s $10.55 million straight cash offer, was reliant on securing financing. A third bidder, Gem Lake Lodge, a North Oaks-based company affiliated with the White Bear Lake Hockey Association, a major user of the sports center, had offered $10.65 million, also contingent on financing.

The sale is being made on behalf of bondholders who funded the project. The city of Vadnais Heights issued the revenue bonds to pay for it on behalf of Community Facility Partners, a Deephaven nonprofit, under a lease arrangement. Projected revenues never covered expenses, and after the city subsidized losses and other problems, the firm defaulted on the bonds late last year.

The Ramsey County Board can only wait and see what develops, said Commissioner Blake Huffman, whose district includes Vadnais Heights. He has led the efforts to secure the 3-year-old building. “We left our best offer with them, and we’ll have to see what happens,” he said. The county has been waiting for a 45-day “due diligence” period to expire before the bid is finally accepted. Most of the county’s 10 heavily used ice arenas (with 11 ice sheets) are aging.

The cutbacks at Northern Educate come just a few months after the company expanded from Eagan into Blaine, Eden Prairie and Vadnais Heights. It also expanded its training offering from just hockey to include soccer, lacrosse and figure skating, effective for this school year.

The Vadnais Sports Center would be the first outright purchase of a sports facility.

Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report. Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson

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