U to receive money for women’s hockey rink

Aaron Kirscht

and Chris Vetter

The University will receive $3 million in its 1998-99 biennial budget, earmarked specifically to finance the construction of a women’s hockey facility, but what that facility will look like — and what amenities it will include — remains unclear.
The financing bill, signed Wednesday by Gov. Arne Carlson, provides $3 million to allow the University to complete the facility, which is expected to open in fall 1999. Along with $7 million the Legislature had already approved in a bonding bill last session, the women’s athletics department now has all of the $10 million it requested for the facility.
The ice rink is tentatively slated to be built on Fourth Street, on the current site of the outdoor tennis courts adjacent to Mariucci Arena.
Under the legislators’ plans, the tennis courts would be demolished. But the new facility might not have tennis courts — as was planned last year — because of space constrictions.
The higher education conference committee, which determined the details of funding for the facility, made several changes to the funding measure before passing the bill. First, the women’s athletics department, which originally would have had to pay back $1 million to the Legislature in two payments in 1998 and 1999, will no longer have to repay any money.
Second, the committee said the new facility should contain multiple sheets of ice, with up to four rinks if possible, so that the women’s athletics department could rent the extra rinks to other parties when they weren’t in use.
Several legislators toured a similar multisheet facility in Toronto that nets $500,000 annually. They speculated that a similar complex on campus could be a “moneymaker” for the women’s athletics department. The department would net any proceeds from the facility.
The Gophers men’s and women’s tennis teams currently use the Fourth Street courts, primarily for practice. Unpredictable weather in the fall and spring portions of the season often forces the teams to play indoors, either at the 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington or the Highway 100 club in Brooklyn Center.
But men’s coach David Geatz said the absence of on-campus courts would make his job more difficult.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that the University would tear up our courts,” he said. “There would be no place to play anymore.
“I hope it’s not true. But if it is, I’m sure they have something in mind for us.”
No alternative plans for the replacement of the courts has been proposed, but Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, said the land where the tennis courts are located is too valuable to sit dormant throughout most of the year.
“There is no reason why we can’t move the tennis courts,” Larson said. “They could be placed anywhere.”
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said the committee is not forcing the University to move the courts, but is advising it to do so if a revenue-generating hockey facility can be built instead.
“This (request) is more of ‘take a look and see’, not ‘this is the way it’s going to be,'” Pelowski said.
The higher education bill only requires the University to look into building the multisheet complex. However, if the Board of Regents decides a multisheet complex isn’t feasible after consulting with the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, the University may construct its desired facility, which would include one rink for the women’s team along with the indoor courts.
Geatz said the prospect of losing the courts concerns him, but said it would just mean the program has to work harder to raise money for a facility on its own.
“I guess it means that we’ll just have to go out and rally the troops in the tennis community, raise enough money and try to build it ourselves,” he said. “Either that or we just throw in the towel.”
When the Legislature learned that the state surplus was about $2.3 billion — $900 million more than originally thought — Gov. Arne Carlson outlined a new budget that included plans to give the University the additional $3 million needed to complete the cost of the facility.
Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said he hopes the University will find a nearby place for new courts if they cannot be fit into the hockey facility.
“I hope they provide (tennis courts) somewhere on campus,” Carlson said.