BAUDETTE, MINN. – This town of 1,000 residents on the Canadian border will soon have a hockey arena that many larger cities might envy.
And it won’t cost taxpayers a cent.
An anonymous donor — a local boy who made good — put up $6 million of the $6.8 million tab for the Lake of the Woods International Arena. The balance is being raised privately.
Workers are putting the finishing touches on the 750-seat, 40,000-square-foot facility, which will open later this month. Though the high school season will have ended, summer hockey schools are already scheduled.
It’s possible, even likely, that the people of Baudette have a pretty good idea of the donor’s identity. But the locals, at the donor’s request, are keeping the secret.
“It’s truly a gift. He doesn’t want any notoriety,” said Mike Schulz, board chairman of the foundation that was created to oversee the arena. “He even told us we could sell the naming rights to someone else.”
Schulz said the donor grew up in Baudette and has vivid memories of playing hockey outside in 25-below weather, when “the pucks would shatter when they hit the post.”
Baudette already has an arena that’s about 25 years old, but it’s in need of work, and the ice time is in high demand.
The existing arena will remain in use. But when hockey season is over, the new arena will double as an indoor practice field for spring sports such as baseball, track and softball. The sometimes chilly northern Minnesota weather often prevents those teams from practicing outside until mid-April or later.
The new home of the Lake of the Woods School Bears sits next to the K-12 school, which also serves students from across the border in Rainy River, Ontario. It won’t be owned or operated by the school — although the school sold the land for $1. The arena foundation will own and manage the facility.
And the donor has guaranteed that any future costs will be covered, Schulz said, though he doesn’t expect that will be necessary.
“It’s sustainable. It will not raise local taxes,” he said. But should that situation ever change, “the donor’s foundation guarantees its operations in perpetuity.”
The arena planners have been careful not to overreach, Schulz said. Early on, there was talk of building a larger facility. But the group toured other arenas in the region before deciding on the final plans.
“The advice we got was, ‘Don’t build it too big for your community,’ ” Schulz said.
The new arena includes a mezzanine with a concession area, and a meeting room with a balcony that can be used by teams or rented for games. It has an elevator for handicapped access, and energy-efficient LED lighting is used throughout the building.
The arena isn’t heated, but there are heat lamps mounted above the bleacher seats to help keep spectators warm. Marvin Windows and Doors of nearby Warroad gave a discount on the building’s windows.
Hockey-related artwork will be featured both inside and outside the arena, including pieces by noted hockey artist Terrence Fogarty of Victoria. The arena will also make skates and equipment available for use by needy youths.
Local residents, hired for $15 an hour to install the rink’s boards, donated their pay back to the project, Schulz said.
The building is sure to be packed for the first official game on Nov. 30, a matchup with rival International Falls.
With the existing arena located about 1½ miles from the school, the new facility’s proximity will allow the school to function more as a community center, Schulz said, with less shuttling between venues.
Schulz, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and moved to Baudette 20 years ago to open a landscaping and plowing business, doesn’t play hockey. “I can’t swing a hockey stick. I can’t stop on skates without boards,” he said with a laugh.
He got involved in the arena issue, he said, to thank Baudette for helping his family after a fire destroyed their home in 2007.
“It was amazing how the community wrapped their arms around me,” he said. “I’m not doing this for hockey — this is a way of giving back.”
The arena also will be an important amenity in a community that’s far from population centers.
“It’s like, ‘Here’s this little town in northern Minnesota, look at what we’ve got,’ ” Schulz said. “It means Baudette’s alive. It’s growing, it’s moving forward.”