AUBURN — Councilors on Monday cleared the way for a two-rink ice arena on Turner Street behind Shaw's and the Auburn Mall.
Councilors voted 6-1 to direct City Manager Clinton Deschene to begin negotiating a contract with landowner George Schott, in time for their meeting Monday, July 2. Only Councilor Belinda Gerry voted against the decision, saying she liked the plan but was nervous about approving it without a public vote.
"This ultimately is why we were elected," Councilor Joshua Shea said. "I feel 100 percent that this group, while we may have doubts, did our due diligence on this project overall."
According to Monday's decision, Schott would borrow the $8.5 million to build the facility using private financing, leasing it back to the city each year for 30 years. The city would have the option of buying the property outright during that time.
The facility would be a money-making enterprise, taking in more than $1.25 million in annual revenues and paying just less than $1.25 million in expenditures, according to estimates. Expenses include lease payments to Schott and $140,000 in property taxes to the city each year.
Councilors said they also liked a competing plan that would have put the arena on YMCA-owned land south of Stetson Road. That plan would have been more expensive to develop and would have taken more time.
That was the deciding factor for Shea.
"Three or four years from now, the Y may have much stronger argument," Shea said. "But unfortunately, we don't have three or four years. We have to make the decision based on the information and cost analysis we have on hand."
Plans call for having the arena ready for operation in 2013. Deschene said he hopes to have more information about the development timeline and other details in a memo of understanding for councilors to vote on next week.
Councilors scheduled next Monday's meeting to hear opinions from residents about the arena.
A group of 13 hockey boosters and parents spoke to councilors, and not one opposed the arena.
"I'm here to tell you that a facility like this will give this area a significant advantage in attracting families to youth tournaments," Mike Keaney, of 61 Nottingham Road in Auburn, said.
The proposed arena would have seats for 1,200 spectators in one rink, 200 in a second rink, 300 in a shared mezzanine and standing room for hundreds more. The arena would also feature 14 locker rooms for teams, a pro shop and second-floor warm spectator area with a concession stand.
The Turner Street plan had more supporters.
"The great thing about the Turner Street site is that once you park yourself, as a parent, you can walk anywhere you need to go," Tom Labrie of Greene said. "You can walk to the hotel, the shopping centers, the movies or a number of restaurants. That's a tremendous asset."
Access to the shopping amenities, restaurants and hotels pushed it over.
Recreation Department Director Ravi Sharma said a survey of 100 Twin Cities hockey parents found that they regularly spend more than $200 each time they travel to an out-of-town, regional tournament.
Parents on Monday night said that estimate was low.
"I took the survey, and may be in the minority," Keaney said. "It seems like I spend a heck of a lot more when I take my three kids to these tournaments."
YMCA Executive Director Brian DuBois promoted the competing site off Stetson Road.
"But we are a ready, willing and able partner for the city," DuBois said. "There are synergies in partnering with us, exposing the ice-loving hockey lover to other sports. It would add exposure to programs all around."
The YMCA's plan would have made the city-owned and managed ice rink part of a recreation campus that would have included indoor swimming pools, gymnasiums and day care.
Alan Hahnel, the YMCA's facilities chairman, said the YMCA site also offers room for the city's ice rink to expand.
"If this two-rink facility is successful, you have the opportunity for a third on the our site," he said. "You don't have that kind of room on Turner Street."