(Updated on Tuesday with photos from the arena.)
The Northfield Ice Arena could see some renovations—or even a new building — as the Northfield City Council discusses the best step for the city.
Councilors discussed the topic during their Tuesday work session, when City Engineer Joe Stapf brought up concerns about the city’s current arena. Stapf said the arena has space limitations, both for ice and non-ice events, and the locker rooms are so small that teams have to take up several rooms to accommodate all their players. Some teams have already refused to play at the Northfield Arena, and the St. Olaf women’s hockey team travels to Faribault about 35 times a year to play instead of playing at the local building.
Assistant Public Works Director Brian Erickson suggested pursuing a feasibility report to gather viewpoints from interested groups, from the colleges to the Northfield Public High School.
“Obviously, the city’s not the only player in this process,” agreed City Administrator Tim Madigan. “When you’re putting together plans for this, you want to get all the stakeholders together and see what people are willing to bring to the table.”
Stapf said ice arenas can be a source of great revenue for cities, though he said it would be important to see what the feasibility report said. Erickson added that there could be many potential dry-land uses as well if Northfield were to install two sheets of ice in the building, such as available practice room for the Northfield Soccer Association and lacrosse teams.
Councilor Rhonda Pownell, who has advocated for updating the ice arena for some time, said it’s important for the feasibility report to take into account how the ice arena affects the rest of the Northfield community, such as hotel lodging and restaurant visits during tournaments.
“[Updating the arena] is going to strength some of our businesses that are already here,” she said. “It’s like looking for synergies, just like we do with regular businesses.”
Councilor Suzie Nakasian brought up a second idea: moving the ice arena to a new building and using the existing building for a different business, saying the ice arena’s site is very commercially developable.
Stapf cautioned councilors that the Public Works Department would need to study the topic more before being able to offer price estimates or more detailed proposals.
“We need to make a decision on how this is going to develop, if it develops at all,” he said. “It’s a complicated issue.”
However, while councilors agreed more research needs to be done, most expressed excitement about the project.
“There’s so much more that can be done with that facility,” Pownell said. “There’s so many questions that need to be answered, and I’m grateful we can get started on the process.”
The City Council will continue to explore the issue in future meetings.