While city leaders and supporters of a proposed new civic center held their breaths and bit their nails, the three Dundas council members squeaked out an “aye.”
Though the affirmatives were barely audible, it was enough to put a .05-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot. If that question and others going before Northfield voters pass, 70 percent of the proceeds will help fund the $21.2 million civic center with two sheets of ice planned near the Northfield-Dundas border. The remainder would go toward as yet undetermined trail and recreation projects.
There was drama in the council chambers Monday night as all three present — Councilors Chad Pribyl and Larry Fowler were absent — took turns praising the project, but criticizing the plan.
As he did last month, Councilor Grant Modory pointed out what he sees as a disconnect between what’s being sold and what could become reality.
“I’d like it to be clearer so this thing has a chance of getting passed,” said Modory, a former youth hockey player.
The issue, he said, is the fundraising piece.
According to Northfield city documents, $3.4 million in private funds needs to be raised by August 2019 in order for the project to be developed as a two-sheet arena/civic center. But, as Modory noted, it will still go forward if the Dundas and Northfield referendums pass, but the fundraising goal isn’t met.
Without the private dollars, the project will be constructed with a single sheet of ice, though a second sheet could be added later.
Councilor John Cruz agreed with Modory, but worried that he hasn’t seen any “energy” behind the fundraising portion of the project.
The mood of the room shifted as Mayor Glenn Switzer suggested tabling the discussion and wondered if the statutory timeline allowed the potential postponement.
While Northfield Administrator Ben Martig looked for an answer, Cruz wondered how many other local groups have gotten on board. The project initially was billed as an ice arena, but is now being called a civic center. Supporters have noted the multiple uses for the planned center, noting that it would be used by the entire community.
“Yes, we want to make this a multi-use facility,” said Brett Reese, chair of the Northfield Civic Center Task Force, clearly looking to make his case.
Possible uses include tennis, a walking track, lacrosse and curling, he said. Others have suggested that it could be used as a concert venue as well as to hold hockey tournaments, which would bring tourism dollars to both cities.
“I hear your concerns,” said Reese. “Eighteen people were on this task force for 18 months. One rink doesn’t meet the needs of this community so they’re incentivized. There are groups ready to mobilize. Hockey players, school kids, varsity, JV, are very motivated.”
Dundas resident Tom Seesz, who managed ice arenas, including the one in Northfield, for decades, supported the project, and the need for two sheets of ice. According to Seesz, the arena would easily pull skaters, their teams and their families from across southern Minnesota to the benefit of both cities.
“There’s a lot of work to be done if it’s going to be successful,” said Switzer just before the unanimous vote. “It’s the spin, it’s the marketing, it’s the sale,” he said.
“It’s the energy,” said Cruz.