After a failed referendum for a new, two-sheet ice arena last November, the Northfield City Council is in the beginning stages of forming a new plan for the proposed project.
The city is proposing $40,000 for community surveying from its park fund from an outside agency. It is asking whether to expand any work beyond the Ice Arena to other Park & Recreation needs. It is also contemplating whether to remodel the existing arena, work expected to cost $7 million that could be bid in January.
Northfield City Administrator Ben Martig said using community surveying is statistically significant because it can gather a wide array of feedback from residents.
The city was forced to go back to the drawing board after a proposal to build a $21 million civic center with taxpayer dollars was rejected by city voters in Northfield and Dundas. The referendum would have imposed a half-cent sales tax in Northfield and Dundas, plus a property tax in Northfield. 55 percent of Northfield voters said “No,” while 45 percent said “Yes.” And in Dundas, 51 percent of voters said “No,” while 49 percent said “Yes.”
The civic center proposal was to build a $21.2 million community arena on 7 acres of land donated to Northfield Hockey Association in the southwest Northfield commercial district just north of the Dundas Dome. The current arena, which the Northfield Ice Arena Advisory Board said is sub-standard and unable to accommodate a second sheet of ice, would have been sold by the city. Proceeds were to help fund the new facility.
It was estimated late last year that $6-7 million could keep the building going for the next decade or so, but even that was seen as needing to come out of the pockets of local taxpayers.
Due to a change in state law, any referendum, such as a local option sales tax, now needs to first gain legislative approval.
In following the standard process, the city will likely not be able to begin the project with a local option sales tax until 2023 because of the time it will take to secure state and local approval. If the city decides not to seek a local option sales tax, the project could begin in 2021, but Martig said 2022-23 is still a more likely starting point. If the city decides to renovate the current building and not build new, that project could begin in 2021.
Councilor Brad Ness said the city needs to determine the arena’s existing needs and have conversations with the Northfield Hockey Association to determine the needs of the hockey program.
“We have no plan yet to do anything,” he said.
He said he would have trouble voting to invest in the current facility unless the Hockey Association expressed interest in doing so.
“It’s throwing money down a black hole, I think,” he said.
The existing ice arena, built in the mid 1970s, was funded by private donations and later turned over to the city of Northfield. Now more than 40 years old, it has significant environmental and safety issues, doesn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and employs a cooling system that uses a coolant that's no longer being manufactured.