County board tackles arena issue – once again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Past experience would dictate Mower County taxpayers should not hold their breath and wait for the county board to decide the fate of a proposed multipurpose building.

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Past experience would dictate Mower County taxpayers should not hold their breath and wait for the county board to decide the fate of a proposed multipurpose building.

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There have been too many instances of false hopes giving way to another delay in the project, now 3 years old.

Still, today could be the day for a decision. The item is atop the county board’s agenda for a meeting that began at 1 p.m.

It’s what County Commissioner Ray Tucker, Second District, said taxpayers deserve.

"They need to know where we stand," Tucker told his fellow county board members a week ago.

Of course, Tucker’s district includes the eastern two-thirds of the county, where the idea of a multipurpose building with two sheets of ice is not popular.

Now, the city of Adams and Adams Township are nearing a decision on their own about a new building project that would house the Adams Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Services and give Adams Township its first town hall, as well as serving as a Mower County Highway Department building.

Already, Tucker has committed county funds to the project in Adams.

"As Mower County entered into the (multipurpose building) project, it was for three main purposes," County Coordinator Craig Oscarson explained.

"We looked at this as a community betterment with positive impacts on the county fair building infrastructure needs, additional building for the National Barrow Show and for sheets of ice for the sports community," Oscarson said.

"It would bring the potential as a site for trade shows and conventions," he continued. "The project also was to have the potential as a partial resolve to the grandstand issues."

"Of these three main items, we expected the community and others to pay the capital costs of the project for the sports community," Oscarson said. "The Mower County share was to be for a building without ice and for parking improvements."

Where does that leave the Mower County Board of Commissioners today?

Answer: At a crossroads with four options.

n The county can rebid the project, which remains more than $2.2 million over budget.

n Build one sheet of ice in a new building at the fairgrounds.

n Donate the county’s share of the funds allocated for the project to the city of Austin and support the city’s own Riverside Arena replacement project.

n Eliminate the project because of the cost overruns, anticipated high utility costs and other considerations.

The multipurpose building project was budgeted at $5.5 million. Mower County’s contribution would be $2.45 million, the city of Austin’s $900,000; Austin Youth Hockey Ice2K fund-raiser, $250,000, Hormel Foods Corp.’s match of the AYH fund-raiser, $250,000; Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission Mighty Ducks grant monies, $500,000; Hormel Foundation, $300,000; Hormel Foods Corp., $600,000; and Austin Independent School District No. 492, $250,000.

Among the key points of the county commissioners’ deliberations before today’s decision-making meeting was the capital budget.

The city has made it clear that $600,000 of its contribution will be paid, not upfront, but over a three-year period. In other words, the county’s own upfront share will be larger than the $2.045 million pledge.

Also all of the Hormel Foods Corp. and Hormel Foundation’s contributions will be paid over a three-year period. This also would increase the county’s upfront share of the capital budget.

The Austin school district’s share reflects fees charged the district for use of the new multipurpose building’s two sheets of ice.

Another key factor is the proposed operating budget for the new facility. Whether the two sheets of ice or a new one-sheet of ice facility is built, the county commissioners want to know: will the revenues match the building operating expenses?

If the city’s own Riverside Arena, built in 1973, has operated at a $130,000 shortfall annually, what guarantees are there that a new building will be profitable at the fairgrounds?

Oscarson has given the county commissioners three different budget scenarios to review prior to today’s meeting.

The current Mower County Board has only four members.

Gary Nemitz, Fifth District county commissioner, resigned in January because of health reasons. A special election will be held March 20 to determine his successor.

Nemitz, a member of the county board’s building committee, was an enthusiastic supporter of the multipurpose building project.

Also supporting the project from the start are board members Dave Hillier, Third District, and Len Miller, Fourth District.

Consistent in their "nay" votes on the project from the start are two other board members, Richard P. Cummings, First District, and Ray Tucker, Second District.

Take away Nemitz’s "aye" vote and that leaves two commissioners, who have consistently voted "aye" – Hillier and Miller – and two who have consistently voted "nay" – Cummings and Tucker.

And, that, of course, is a tie vote, which would either doom the project altogether or delay it again.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at