Regents to vote on new Duluth hockey facilities

Kristin Gustafson

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Although University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey players will play their first games at the downtown Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in mid-October, they will do so without a lease until at least Nov. 11.
The DECC has been home to Bulldog hockey for 33 years, but the Board of Regents tabled a five-year lease contract Thursday. When delaying the measure, the regents’ facilities committee cited concerns about the building’s age, the ice rink’s size and the center’s ability to house women’s hockey in the future.
Regent David Metzen, facilities committee vice chairman, led the discussion with a question.
“Where is the future of (Duluth) men’s hockey?” he said. “We don’t have a long-term vision for Duluth in mind.”
A new $10 million Bulldog Sports Center — to house women’s hockey practice and games; men’s hockey practice; and student training, conditioning and recreational facilities — would not accommodate men’s hockey games under current plans.
The DECC as well as Duluth’s mayor and city council “would like to see the men’s program continue to play downtown,” said Gregory Fox, vice chancellor for finance and operations at the Duluth campus.
But the 35-year-old facility is the oldest and smallest in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Although the facility is kept clean and comfortable for spectators, the facility is sandwiched between buildings with no room to expand, Fox said.
Regent William Peterson said the board has an obligation to question a contract “with no out.”
The five-year DECC contract, totalling more than $1 million, would not allow men’s hockey to move to another facility without paying their full amount. But the contract would allow women’s hockey to move to another facility.
Because the future of men’s and women’s hockey facilities in Duluth is uncertain, Peterson said the University should renegotiate for a contract with shorter terms or more flexibility. The state Legislature will determine the fate of the Bulldog Sports Center this spring.
Metzen agreed with Peterson, adding, “We’re trying to do what is right for Duluth and the University of Minnesota.”
Maureen Reed said she was concerned the DECC does not want to accommodate women’s hockey if legislative funding for Bulldog Sports Center falls through, even though the DECC contract leases space to women’s hockey for five years.
Fox said the DECC “would prefer only one program … and they would prefer the men’s because of the revenue it generates.”
After the regents tabled their vote until next November’s meeting, Fox said the DECC would do what it could to help the University meet gender-equity obligations.
Fox, who will attempt to renegotiate the DECC contract, said providing space for both men’s and women’s teams limits the DECC’s entertainment and convention business.
“Their life would be easier if both weren’t there,” he added.
Fox said he wished the University made the Bulldog Sports Center a higher priority on the legislative request — currently it ranks 10th out of 10 items — but he was optimistic about legislative approval.
Sean Dillon, a regents’ student representative, said he looked forward to bringing the DECC issue back to Duluth. He was optimistic about getting student support on the issue.
Men’s hockey in Duluth “probably gets the greatest student draw for sports in terms of excitement and interest,” Dillon said.

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.