Ramsey County wants to buy the Vadnais Sports Center, a state-of-the-art ice arena built by the city of Vadnais Heights that failed to pay for itself and is now being sold for half of what it cost to build.

The County Board, meeting behind closed doors for more than an hour Tuesday, voted to submit a bid for the domed facility with two ice rinks and a field. The purchase also would include two adjacent lots.

Although Board Chairman Rafael Ortega declined to disclose the amount of the bid, the asking price is $13 million and bids had to start at $8 million.

Ortega said that at least five of the board's seven commissioners voted to bid on the facility, which was built three years ago for $26.5 million.

Commissioner Janice Rettman confirmed that she voted against making a bid, reaffirming her vote last month against considering a purchase.

Ramsey County's 11 ice arenas are aging facilities, many of them in need of renovation, Ortega said, and it would be good for the county if it could get a bargain on the Vadnais facility.

"We had a good discussion on it, it fits our business and strategic plans, and this is an opportunity we should seize upon if we can get it for the right price," he said.

The real estate firm handling the sale says it expects several bids, which are due by Friday.

If the county's bid is accepted, it would have 60 days to back out of the deal. The board eventually would cast a public vote to finalize the purchase.

Vadnais Heights built the sports center with bonds and transferred ownership to the nonprofit Community Facilities Partners, believing that revenues generated by the facility would cover debt service. Those projections proved to be way off, and the city paid the debt service for a while before walking away and leaving it to the nonprofit.

After the arena's money problems came to light last year, Ortega said he spoke to county parks officials about taking a look at buying it. "We feel we could operate it more cost-effectively," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035