by Dennis Dalman
Feedback by some Sartell residents about the city helping fund the Scheels Athletic Complex is unfair and unfounded, said Chad Ritter, president of the Sartell Youth Recreation Center.
Ritter spoke to the Sartell City Council meeting during the public forum portion of the Aug. 10 meeting.
Some critics of the city-private funding plan to build the complex have said it is not a good idea to use so much city money to benefit mainly just the sport of hockey. In addition, the critics have said it would be unwise for the city to enter into a loan agreement that could, they said, put the city in financial jeopardy.
Ritter told the City Council there are many recreation/sports facilities in Sartell, many paid for directly or indirectly with tax money via the city and school district. He listed the amenities: 16 indoor basketball courts, two large pools, 11 youth and adult soccer fields, 10 youth and adult baseball fields, seven youth and adult softball fields and places designated for wrestling, gymnastics and weight training.
And yet there is only one hockey rink (Bernick’s Arena), Ritter said.
He said critics of the athletic complex neglect to mention the complex will be a venue for other sports and events. Eight months of the year, the new complex can be used for other sports, including football, because it will be an enclosed space with artificial turf.
Fifteen years ago, when the Bernick’s Arena was built via a financial city/private partnership, “detractors,” said Ritter were critical of it, and they are mostly the same detractors now criticizing the athletic complex plan, he added.
Since the Bernick’s Arena was built, it has been so successful it has never needed any sort of bailout from the city, Ritter said.
“We’ve proven to be financially stable and feasible,” he told the council.
For years, the city, school district and other entities, including the SYRC, have established partnerships for recreation and for the economic benefit of the city, he pointed out.
On June 8, the Sartell City Council voted 4-1, with council member Mike Chisum voting no, to help fund the proposed Scheels Athletic Complex in the amount of about $1.5 million. In addition, later the City Council, at its July 13 meeting, agreed on a 4-1 vote (Chisum voting no) to help the SYRC obtain a low-interest $5 million loan through an agreement known as a conduit-lease. The city’s excellent credit rating would make the low-interest private loan possible. That plan also drew criticism from some city residents, who fear if the SYRC could not make repayments throughout the next 20 years, the city would then become financially liable.
That agreement, however, is expected to be reconsidered at an upcoming public hearing. The council might, for example, agree to a conduit-bond, which – unlike a conduit-lease arrangement – would carry a higher interest rate but would not place the city in financial jeopardy in case of a loan default.
The new arena, to be built just south of the current one in Pinecone Regional Park, would be an enclosed structure with fabric roof and artificial turf. Supporters of the complex, including Ritter, have emphasized it could be used in the nonwinter months for any number of sports, as well as for community events such as concerts or trade shows.
The cost of the Scheels Sports Complex is estimated at about $6.2 million. The arena planners said they have raised a lion’s share of the amount through corporate, business and individual donations and long-term pledges.