Worthington City Council discusses $10 million contribution toward new ice arena

Feb. 13—WORTHINGTON — After engaging with Worthington ISD 518 for several months regarding collaboration on funding for a proposed new ice arena, the Worthington City Council on Monday night discussed possible funding sources and just how much they're willing to contribute.

"I think we should commit to the project," said Councilwoman Amy Ernst. "We've talked about it and talked about it."

She said it would be sad to not have hockey in a town of Worthington's size, and said a project won't happen for any entity on its own.

"I would be in favor of not committing any money to working on the old ice arena," Ernst said. "I would throw $10 million out and figure out how to fund it."

The $10 million amount was agreeable to fellow Councilwoman Alaina Kolpin, who added that whatever the city offers should be matched by the school district.

"I want them to personally commit to the same number we are — an amount up to $10 million," Kolpin said. "If the school district comes up with $6 million, then that's also our number."

Councilman Chris Kielblock added that land not be included in the dollar amount.

Kielblock said if the arena won't be built on the Nobles County Fairgrounds property, he'd like to see it on city-owned land north of Interstate 90.

"I think it would expand more business out to that ... industrial area," Kielblock said. "It would benefit the city more than being on school property. I'd want to go that route, too, if we were going to continue to manage the property."

City Administrator Steve Robinson said at the start of discussion that the city has three sources for possible funding for a new ice arena — undesignated reserves, general obligation bonds and local option sales tax revenue.

"I feel like we're pulling a number out of the air," Kielblock said. "Is $10 million feasible? $8 million feasible? At the expense of what?"

Robinson said the city could allocate up to $2 million from the local option sales tax, and the other $8 million could come from bonding and undesignated reserves, should the council opt to commit to $10 million.

He also said a Dec. 31 deadline should be set for determining those funding sources.

"We don't know what the council make-up will be in 2025," Robinson said. "I don't know if the current council can commit future funding to the future city council. There has to be a sunset date ... for whatever commitment the council decides to put forward."

While no action was taken at Monday night's meeting, Robinson encouraged council members to make a decision in the near future.

Councilman Chad Cummings reiterated what he's said in previous meetings — that if decision makers, the business community and regional residents don't commit to being the regional hub of this area, then they are letting and watching dollars leave the community, and that will only continue.

He encouraged council members to look at the project as not just a hockey facility, but as a place to host events, tournaments, trade shows, outdoors shows, farm shows, etc.

"They're never going to be the magnitude that people travel to the Twin Cities or Sioux Falls for, but the goal we've been working toward — attaining and retaining people — if we don't do that, we will see jobs, people, etc. slide more south and west of us," Cummings said. "I'm OK with the $10 (million)."

He also said he likes the idea of building it north of Interstate 90 for visibility and functionality, but he wouldn't mind if it was built on the west side of town by the schools either.

"I'm fine with $10 (million); I'm fine with listening to more," he added.

Nobles County Fair Association President Ron McCarvel attended Monday night's meeting to say the fair board is concerned about what would happen to the existing ice arena if they decided to build new.

"We have a lease on it for 99 years and we expect to use it for three weeks out of the year," McCarvel said.

He also said the fair association is open to having discussions about a potential addition to the existing ice arena, if that was the route the entities wanted to pursue.