The prospect of building a new ice arena to replace the aging facility in West St. Paul is making a comeback, this time in a proposal that could involve sharing costs with the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District and the communities it serves.
Representatives of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) already have met with city officials in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights to gauge their interest in a task force to evaluate the feasibility of building a new ice arena. MASC is a state agency that promotes the economic and social benefits of amateur sports in Minnesota.
Paul Erickson, MASC executive director, told the Mendota Heights City Council in June that preliminary estimates show a facility with a single sheet of ice would cost $4 million to $6 million while a two-sheet arena would cost $7 million to $9 million. A 2010 study commissioned by West St. Paul reported that a two-sheet arena can generate twice as much revenue while only costing 50 percent more to operate.
A new study would look at many of the same issues as the 2010 report, including the market demand, optimal size and expected economic benefits of a new facility.
While continuing growth in youth hockey is fueling some of the interest in a new facility, the principal driver is the age and condition of the existing West St. Paul Ice Arena.
Built in 1971, it has been renovated over the years but "is one major breakdown from being shut down," according to West St. Paul City Council Member Richard Vitelli.
The city had the study done in 2010 as it weighed the prospect of replacing the arena with a new ice sheet and sports dome. Ultimately the city decided to build just the sports dome, and that facility for soccer, baseball, football and lacrosse opened last fall.
Last year, West St. Paul approved a cost-sharing agreement with the school district and two local hockey groups for some repairs to the old arena estimated to cost $43,500. Part of that project was completed last year, and work on the rest is proceeding, according to City Engineer Matt Saam.
Earlier this year, the West St. Paul City Council passed a resolution supporting the formation of the task force and the preparation of the feasibility study by MASC. The task force would include representatives from the school district as well the cities of West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Eagan, Inver Grove Heights, Sunfish Lake, Lilydale and Mendota.
"It just makes sense to do this thing together," Vitelli said of the arrangement to work as a group to study and possibly fund a new facility.
Erickson said he hasn't met with all the possible task force participants but that in addition to West St. Paul, he has received positive feedback on the idea from Sunfish Lake and the school board.
Erickson said it would be important to have broad representation on the task force. Mendota Heights should play a role because residents of that community account for the most members of the Sibley Area Youth Hockey Association, a principal ice arena user, he said.
Mendota Heights is still discussing whether it wants to take part, according to City Administrator Justin Miller. "The City Council hopes to talk about it again at its meeting [Tuesday]. At that point, it hopes to decide what level of participation the city would have," he said.
"One of the things our City Council is grappling with is trying to find out what the need is," Miller said.
Mayor Sandra Krebsbach said people should not expect Mendota Heights to shoulder a large share of the financial burden if an arena were built.
"We're a small city," Krebsbach said. "You can't look to Mendota Heights to carry the day on this." She also noted that the last time West St. Paul evaluated the market for a new ice arena, it decided not to proceed. "They did a study, and they chose to invest in soccer," she said.