Regents approve lease for UMD hockey center

Kristin Gustafson

Duluth women’s and men’s hockey will have a home for the next five years after regents approved a lease Thursday.
After tabling the issue in mid-October, the Board of Regents approved the measure Thursday without much debate.
Regents said one month ago that they wanted better terms in the University’s contract with the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, home to Bulldogs men’s hockey for 33 years.
The terms did not change, but the regents’ verdict did.
The lease is still five years longer than board members said they wanted. The 35-year-old facility is also the oldest and smallest in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. And the costs to the University will remain the same — a total of more than $1 million.
But the DECC’s agreement to work on a task force with the University to make men’s athletics more competitive made the difference.
A new $10 million Bulldog Sports Center would accommodate Duluth women’s and men’s hockey practices and women’s hockey games, but not men’s hockey games.
Duluth’s Mayor Gary Doty and the city council want to keep men’s hockey at the downtown DECC arena because of the revenue the games generate.
The five-year lease allows for the women’s team, but not the men’s team, to leave the DECC with a one-year notice.
Ultimately, the University would like to move men’s hockey to campus, Regent Anthony Baraga said. But he said that would be unlikely for at least four years.
“I think it’s a heck of a good lease,” Baraga said. He added that if the state Legislature approves the requested funding for the new Bulldog Sports Center, “then it’s a great lease.”
Currently, the sports center ranks at the bottom of 10 items on the 2000 capital budget request.
Tabling the issue allowed Sean Dillon, a student regent representative from Duluth, to get more student input on the issue.
“Our goal is to get men’s hockey back on campus,” he said. “A lot is riding on our getting the Bulldog sports area.”
Regent Maureen Reed said another benefit of the one-month delay was “the comfort in understanding that the terms of the lease were advantageous to the University and the best to be achieved.”
Although regents approved the measure unanimously, they had some concerns, said Eric Kruse, University Services vice president. After the meeting, he said Duluth Chancellor Kathryn Martin and Vice Chancellor Gregory Fox will bring the issue back to regents in December to discuss long-range planning for women’s and men’s athletics.
In February, regents will review more specifics on the Bulldog Sports Center, Kruse added.
Current plans are for the arena to accommodate 3,000. If expanded to 6,000, the arena would suit audiences for the men’s team as well.
After last month’s regent vote, Phil Rolle, DECC board president, wrote a letter to University President Mark Yudof, expressing his disappointment. He stressed the importance of approving a contract as soon as possible.
Rolle wrote that because the DECC board and the University of Minnesota-Duluth agreed to the contract in March, regents had ample time to review and execute the contract.
“Instead, the DECC is in the awkward position of having the women’s and men’s hockey season well underway without a contract in place,” Rolle wrote. “The contract not only protects the University’s and the DECC’s financial interest, it also covers liability issues.”
Rolle also wrote that the University can be assured that the DECC will be an “eager participant” in the planning process.
Fox, who was involved in the DECC lease negotiations, said it was a good contract.
“I thought it was a favorable contract, then and now,” he said. Fox said after the October postponement, the DECC was very willing to work on ways to make the lease work.
Although the DECC can’t change the size of its ice sheet, Fox said they can improve the training and conditioning facilities. This issue is more important and easier to accommodate, Fox said.
And, though he is very optimistic the state Legislature will approve funding for the new Bulldog Sports Center, Fox said that if they do not, “we’ll be glad we have a five-year lease.”

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