The winner of the competition to buy the financially troubled Vadnais Sports Center is an Eagan-based athletic training company, which beat out Ramsey County's attempt to secure the facility on the cheap.

Bondholders, who already have taken a bath on the project, agreed Wednesday afternoon to accept the $13 million bid submitted by Northern Educate, which already leases space at the Sports Center.

They rejected Ramsey County's bid of $10.55 million and a $10.65 million bid from Gem Lake Lodge, a North Oaks-based company affiliated with the White Bear Lake Hockey Association, a major user of the facility.

The county had offered cash with no strings attached, whereas the private bidders made clear they needed to borrow money to close the deal.

The bondholders' "consensus was that they'd rather let [Northern Educate] raise that amount than accept the certainty of cash," said Dan Nelson, an attorney for the Sports Center's owner, Community Facility Partners.

Nelson said that Northern Educate will need to put down earnest money of $250,000 and then will get 45 days for due diligence before the sale is completed.

Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, who supported the county's bid, said officials learned Thursday morning of the bondholders' decision.

"We were comfortable with our bid," Huffman said. "We felt it made sense to us. At that level, it allowed us to let user fees pay for operations. All we were trying to do was to swap out a yet-to-be-determined 50-year-old building for a 3-year-old building."

He said he thought that the County Board now would focus on maintaining the county's existing rinks and upgrading those as needed.

"The Vadnais rink was a once-in-a-generation opportunity, a sale for 30 or 35 cents on the dollar," he said.

Most of the county's 10 heavily used ice arenas (with 11 ice sheets) are aging.

The Sports Center was put on the market in July with an asking price of $13 million, about half of its original cost of construction. The city of Vadnais Heights financed it with bonds and turned over ownership to Community Facility Partners, a Deephaven nonprofit, under a lease arrangement.

Projected revenues never covered expenses. After subsidizing losses and other problems, the city defaulted on the bonds and walked away from the center late last year.