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Ice arena gets cool reception

Olmsted board says taxpayers could get stuck with payments

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.com

Plans to build a fourth arena at Rochester's Graham Arena have received a mixed reaction from Olmsted County commissioners.

During their meeting Tuesday, commissioners reviewed the $5.3 million plan developed by the Rochester Youth Hockey Association. The new arena, called Graham IV, would be built alongside Graham Arena West.

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Mark Hickey, a youth hockey official who presented the plans, said the association would pay most costs. He said the group would make a $1 million down payment and, over the course of 12 years, make additional payments of about $250,000 per year.

Hickey asked Olmsted County to contribute $900,000 toward the project. He also asked the county to purchase the bonds.

Some commissioners were concerned, though, that the association was relying too heavily on charitable gambling to fund the project. Commissioner Mike Podulke said gambling revenues are unpredictable.

Commissioner Dave Perkins also questioned the association's desire to begin construction this year.

"I don't see the urgency in rushing this through, because I don't feel comfortable with this," he said. "This is not a life-or-death situation."

Perkins and other commissioners said they wanted more information before making a decision. The commissioners were particularly concerned about the debts Olmsted County would face if Rochester Youth Hockey defaulted on payments.

County Administrator Dick Devlin said that if the association defaulted, Olmsted County would be responsible for all arena payments.

"If they were to default, it would all come back to us," he said. "The county is putting its name on the bonds, so ultimately it's responsible."

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Commissioner Jim Bier, who also is president of Rochester Youth Hockey Association, said he's confident the association would meet its obligations. He said charitable gambling has provided the group "a pretty steady stream" of revenue for 15 years.

The county board will discuss the proposal at its March 22 meeting.

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