Hockey groups aim to save West St. Paul rink

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2012 - 10:17 PM

The city had planned to close its 40-year-old arena this spring, but the groups hope to delay that.

Hockey groups, eyeing an attempt to save the West St. Paul Ice Arena, plan to ask the city to keep the arena open another year to allow time for fundraising.

The 40-year-old rink needs a new roof and structural supports, which are estimated to cost $350,000. After deciding against building a new arena, the City Council recently announced it would close the ice rink at the end of this season with the ultimate intention of tearing it down.

That got the attention of Henry Sibley High School hockey booster club parents, whose 40 sons and 26 daughters on the Sibley High School hockey teams practice and play at the West St. Paul Arena.

"With the latest news from the city that the building would be closed, we got a little panicked because our student athletes would not have a place to play hockey -- they would not have a home,'' club President Dave Napier said.

The group is exploring the idea of forming a nonprofit group called Friends of the West St. Paul Arena to raise funds to pay for a new roof.

By sponsoring charitable gambling and fundraising, "We think we can do it,'' Napier said. "There is enough interest in our community to save it.''

The future of the building will be discussed at an open community meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at West St. Paul City Hall.

The West St. Paul Youth Athletic Association would like the ice rink to stay open, President John McManus said.

"Our organization with youth hockey is large enough where we need a minimum of two sheets of ice.''

At the same meeting, hockey parents will discuss whether to separate Sibley Area Youth Hockey from the West St. Paul Youth Athletic Association and make it a standalone entity.

Nearly 400 youths play hockey in the area program, and it is one of a very few programs in the state run by a commissioner through the youth athletic association, McManus said.

City Council members have been invited to the meeting, but it is not a city meeting. Council Member Jim Englin, who is heading the push for a new sports dome in the community, said the council "was operating under the premise that it [the arena] was going to come down, but we have never taken official action on it.

"We are still on that path, and if something doesn't happen, we probably won't open it up for summer ice,'' Englin said.

If the fundraising goes ahead, he has told the hockey groups that "there won't be any more city tax dollars going into it.''

Napier said he is optimistic that if the community groups can get the roof paid for, the city will leave the building open.

To get time to raise funds, "We have asked the city and Jim Englin to see if they can commit to keeping the building open in its current condition for one more season. That would buy us six to eight months to come up with a plan.''

Napier said the Robert Street Business Association and the West St. Paul Commercial Club are willing to contribute toward the fundraising.

The booster club can be contacted at Hockeynapier@yahoo.com.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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