by Dennis Dalman
A conduit financing plan for the proposed Scheels Athletic Complex will be revisited by the Sartell City Council this month.
City Administrator Anna Gruber said a public hearing on that issue will take place at an upcoming city-council meeting, to be announced soon.
At its July 13 meeting, the council – despite some vigorous opposition from council member Mike Chisum – voted 4-1 to enter into the public-private financial partnership plan with the Sartell Youth Recreation Center. The amount of the conduit-lease transaction is expected to be $5 million.
The SYRC wants to spend $6.2 million dollars to construct an enclosed ice arena with fabric roof just south of the current Bernick’s Arena. In the warmer seasons, the arena would have artificial turf within it so that a variety of other sports and special events, such as concerts and trade shows, could be take place there. The SYRC would like to start the project soon – as early as this month.
The July 13 decision authorized a “conduit lease” by which the SYRC could acquire the funding with very low interest rates because of the city’s backing. However, if the money could not be paid back, the city could become responsible for the repayments. That would amount to an estimated $27,000 monthly.
A “conduit bond,” on the other hand, would result in higher interest rates for the SYRC, but the city would not be responsible if the money could not be repaid. That second option, a conduit bond, will be considered at the upcoming public hearing.
The city has already committed to providing about $1.5 million for the athletic complex over a 20-year period, including an up-front payment of $450,000 from the city’s share of the regional half-cent sales tax and $482,000 in revenues received by the city for its leasing land for a private golf course.
So far, the SYRC and the Sartell Youth Hockey Association have raised about $3 million in donations and long-term pledges for the project, according to SYRC officials.
Another opponent of the city’s financial involvement with the athletic complex is Joe Perske, former Sartell mayor, teacher, soccer coach and current member of the Stearns County Board of Commissioners.
At the July 13 meeting, Perske spoke up to oppose the project as did Summbla Anjum, a young Sartell woman, who said hockey is limited to just a certain group of kids and the city, she said, should offer a wider variety of activities for young people.
Perske spoke up again at the July 27 city council meeting during the public forum when members of the public can speak their minds for up to three minutes each.
Perske said that Pinecone Regional Park, the site of the proposed complex, is indeed a “regional” park that is meant for all people to use, not just specialty groups, such as hockey enthusiasts. The ice sheet and warming shelter was built on that site so all kids could skate on it, including those who enjoy skating even though some cannot afford to be in a hockey program. Perske said it would be a “travesty” to take away those amenities to build another arena there.
He also criticized the council for agreeing to spend nearly a half million dollars of regional sales tax money for an ice arena when public input for at least 10 years included priorities such as a community center, pool, a branch library, a skating park but never an ice-hockey arena.
Perkse then asked the council some pointed questions: How much exactly do current donations and pledges amount to for the proposed project? What if the pandemic forces cancellation of the hockey program and no rental fees come in to repay the conduit financing? The city, he said, would then be stuck with the repayments.
At the July 27 council meeting at which Perske spoke, the athletic-complex issue was not on the agenda and was not discussed by the council. At the July 13 meeting, council members in favor of the conduit-lease option noted the new arena would be a magnet that would attract many visitors and would be a big economic boost for the city.