WORTHINGTON - In a joint meeting Monday, stakeholders in the Worthington Ice Arena met to discuss potential plans for the facility.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle explained that the purpose of the meeting was not to make a firm decision, but for all stakeholders to be heard.
Steve Johnson explained the history of the current ice arena, which was built in 1990 on Nobles County Fairgrounds property.
“It was built by volunteers and donations,” he said, adding that the city of Worthington initially agreed to finance concrete to go under the bleachers - and later for the entire floor where the rink is.
“It belongs to the hockey community,” Worthington Hockey Association Treasurer Cliff Shreiner said, citing the history of hockey in the Worthington area. He added that the arena also makes money by renting for weddings, concerts and other events.
“It could do a little more if we’d promote it more,” he conceded. “We should have been more money-hungry than we were.”
Shreiner said that at this point, it would be better to make the arena a community venture instead of just for hockey.
Johnson added that the building has no heat and no humidity control, both of which limit the events that can be held there.
District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said for the district’s part, only the varsity hockey team uses the arena. He said this brings about $125,000 annually to the Hockey Association for coaches, referees and other elements of the hockey program.
Hockey Association President Scott Langerud added that the hockey program brings in people who sometimes stay the night or the weekend in Worthington, which is good for the economy.
Kuhle told the group that the major question is whether to spend $2.2 million of local-option sales tax money - if the sales tax is approved by the state - on updating the existing arena or toward building a new facility.
Worthington Director of Public Works Todd Wietzema said according to hockey arena engineers, a new arena would cost around $6 million. The city has only agreed to contribute $2.2 million, so the stakeholders would be responsible for the difference.
Shreiner described the condition of the existing arena as “functional,” but needing some work. Specifically, the roof, insulation and dehumidification system need repair.
“The building would be 50% more efficient if those things were fixed,” he said.
Other repairs are less urgent but will be needed eventually.
Shreiner added that expenses total $300,000 yearly, $60,000 of which is for electricity. He guessed people would pay more for game tickets if the facility were nicer.
Johnson advocated for building a new arena.
“It seems like too big of a dream, but that’s what we thought when we were playing outside at Centennial Park,” he said. He expressed confidence that the community could raise the rest of the necessary money.
Maria Thier, a representative from the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau board, asked two specific questions about a potential new building: “Who would own it?” and “Where would it go?”
The question of who would own a new building is kind of an urgent one, Wietzema said, because the city council needs to pass a resolution detailing plans for local-option sales tax projects in order for the state approval to continue its process. The ownership of the building is one of the things the state will want to know.
Landgaard said another facet to the ownership question is that each stakeholding organization is governed by different rules. For example, he noted, if the school owned the arena, alcohol could never be served at any event there.
Another key question is what kind of activities the ice arena should offer. It has been focused on hockey for many years, but other winter sports could be hosted there, such as figure skating, curling and broomball.
“We want it to be compatible with as many activities as possible,” Kuhle said.
After hearing from all the organizations represented, Kuhle concluded that the city council would need to discuss the project further in a work session before making any decisions.