Declaring their concern about risking taxpayer dollars in a private venture, Woodbury city leaders rejected an independent proposal to develop Bielenberg Sports Center into a regional hockey attraction.

Expansion of the city-owned sports center will move ahead without the $52 million SportsPlex idea, proposed by a subsidiary of a private equity company. The plan included building a practice venue for the Minnesota Wild professional hockey team but also requested public funding.

"I think it's an exciting proposal. I just don't think the city is ready for it," City Council member Paul Rebholz said during a Wednesday evening work session to determine how the city should proceed with Bielenberg improvements.

An arrangement with the Wild remains under consideration, although city leaders made it clear that Woodbury residents come first. "The primary purpose of our park system is to serve our residents," said Bob Klatt, the city's parks and recreation director.

Bo Nickoloff, who leads Athletic Ventures, which proposed the SportsPlex idea, said he thought the city was overly critical of a nonprofit plan intended to benefit the community.

"It was unfortunate, the one-sidedness of it," he said Thursday, describing himself as "obviously disappointed."

However, city leaders invited Athletic Ventures to participate in shaping the city's plan, and City Administrator Clint Gridley suggested that the city should negotiate directly with the Wild.

"We spent a lot of time with the Wild to the point where they'd come to the table," Nickoloff said Thursday. "The Wild entrusted Mesaba Capital and the rest of the community that we'd get them a deal."

But Wild spokesman Bill Robertson said Thursday that the team was open to other proposals from Woodbury. He said earlier this week that Woodbury, under the SportsPlex plan, was the top site among several for a Wild practice venue.

Klatt said Thursday that the Wild's interest is nothing new. Woodbury twice submitted proposals in recent years in response to Wild inquiries, he said.

In addition to the Wild's involvement, the SportsPlex proposal envisioned adding five hockey rinks to the existing two and replacing the current domed athletic field with a 100,000-square-foot field house.

But several city leaders -- including Rebholz, Gridley and Mayor Bill Hargis -- spoke of their concern that Woodbury's city government wasn't equipped to enter a public-private partnership to the magnitude that Athletic Ventures proposed. Hargis said that he wouldn't take the same financial risks on behalf of the city that he would as a private investor.

The city's investment in the SportsPlex was estimated at $8.4 million, with another $6 million anticipated in improvements to nearby Bailey Road to accommodate increased traffic.

"We have to guard that public trust very carefully," Gridley said in his closing remarks to the five City Council members.

The city's plan would build a third ice rink with seating for 1,200 people and a permanent field house about twice the size of the current domed field, built in 1995. The $22 million project, which the city wants to complete by 2012, would include an expanded two-level lobby, eight team rooms, space for retail and food, a running track, and an area for expansion if the Wild should choose Woodbury.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554