by Joni Astrup
The city of Elk River may explore the feasibility of building a multi-purpose community recreation facility.
City Administrator Cal Portner said such a building could include, but not be limited to, two sheets of ice and associated arena facilities, a senior center, a banquet hall with a full kitchen and retail space.
The Elk River City Council is looking at soliciting proposals from firms interested in doing a master planning study to determine the feasibility of the concept. Once the city has proposals, the council can decide if it wants to spend the money on the study, Portner said.
The goal of the study would be to find the feasibility of building the multi-purpose facility at Lions Park, financed primarily with the following money:
•Building Replacement Fund, which now has money earmarked for repairs to the Elk River Ice Arena, the Elk River Activity Center and Lions Park Center.
•the sale of the activity center at 413 Proctor Ave. and the ice arena at 1000 School St. as well as the city-owned parking lot to the east of the arena.
•new revenues from the new multi-purpose building, grants and the energy efficiency of updated facilities.
“I think there might be some opportunity here that we can probably build a facility that meets a lot of different needs without much, or any, new public money,” Portner told council members during a recent work session.
The site at Lions Park under consideration is where the Lions Park Center building now stands. If that scenario were to go forward, Lions Park Center would be demolished, Portner said.
City-owned sites other than Lions Park could also be considered, he said. One advantage he sees of a recreation facility at Lions Park is it would be close to the schools and neighborhoods and in the middle of town.
But, he told the council: “There are other options to look at.”
Meanwhile, Mayor John Dietz isn’t opposed to taking a closer look at the idea. But he said all the stars would have to be in alignment for it to happen.
“I don’t know how salable either one of those buildings are,” he said, referring to the ice arena and the activity center, “and I’m not sure how I feel about the city getting into the banquet business.”
But, he told Portner if he could come up with buyers for the buildings “then I guess you’d have my ear.”
Council Member Paul Motin also expressed reservations about having a city-owned banquet center, viewing that as more of a private sector enterprise.
Portner sees it as a way to more fully utilize space that could be used for one function during the day and for income-producing banquets and receptions at night and weekends. That would be new revenue for the city, he said.
Portner noted that events like wedding receptions are now often held out of town. He said many cities, including Maple Grove, Plymouth, Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie, have banquet-hall-type facilities attached to community centers.
Council Member Matt Westgaard called the entire concept of consolidating several uses into one building a novel idea and told Portner he may be onto something.
Westgaard said the key would be what would happen to the old buildings “so we’re not just adding more inventory to what the city owns, operates and maintains.”
Portner said the idea of consolidating uses in one building came to him as he reviewed the city’s facilities and their condition.
“Everyone is trying to find ways to do things cheaper. If we don’t want to use tax dollars to do things, then we need to find new ways to become entrepreneurial to raise revenues that benefit the community,” he said.
In this case, he said it looked like there was some opportunity. But at this time, he doesn’t know what the gulf is going to be between what the city has up front in money and what it would need.
But, he said: “I think they’re all needs that we have here. We’re going to pay for them one way or another.”
About the current buildings
Here’s a look at the buildings that could be replaced by a new multi-use facility:
Elk River Ice Arena, 1000 School St.: The original arena, known as The Barn, was built in 1971. The facility was expanded in 1996 when an Olympic-sized sheet of ice was added. A study last year concluded that the arena needs nearly $5 million in improvements over the next decade. That does not include updates to improve space and traffic flow or to add amenities commonly found in new arenas, Portner said. The arena and land are valued at about $7 million by the Sherburne County Assessor’s Office.
•Elk River Activity Center, 413 Proctor Ave.: The activity center is the former Elk River Library. The building was turned into an activity center for people age 55 and older after a new library opened in 2007 at 13020 Orono Parkway. The activity center is scheduled for replacement of its roof, HVAC and flooring at a cost estimated at $250,000. The building is quite under utilized, Portner said — open about 40 hours a week and not used on weekends or evenings. It is short on parking and restrooms but, Portner said: “It’s a beautiful building. It’s a well-built building.” It is valued at about $1.7 million by the county assessor’s office.
•Lions Park Center, 1104 Lions Park Drive: Lions Park Center, located near the bandshell at Lions Park, housed offices for Elk River Parks and Recreation at one point, but those employees moved to City Hall in 2011. Portner said the building is expensive to maintain and has very limited uses because of its size, configuration and lack of a commercial kitchen. It also is scheduled for some repair work.