Wisconsin man, council discuss proposed junior hockey team

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Craig Patrick wants to bring junior hockey back to Austin.

The medical device businessman, who remained unnamed publicly until Tuesday, has permission from the North American Hockey League to start an expansion team — and he wants to put it in Austin’s Riverside Arena.

His Tuesday meeting with city council was his chance to get himself known and begin to build trust in a new community, as Patrick is from Hudson, Wis.

Council was also able to see some of the cost considerations of the potential team fleshed out for the first time.

The city will incur roughly $70,000 of upfront expenses to renovate Riverside and make it ready for the team. However, parks and recreation director Kim Underwood said she anticipates the city to recoup the cost within two years, as Patrick is looking at $30,000 to $50,000 per year to rent the arena’s ice.

And Patrick certainly plans on staying for at least two years.

“I intend to keep the team here for a long time,” he said. “I’m just obviously really excited.”

Patrick, who said owning a sports team was a “life goal,” anticipates that the team will greatly help local youth hockey, not only by generating a buzz in town, but also by splitting revenue from concessions.

Underwood has said the team will bring business for area hotels and restaurants as well.

The parks and recreation director also said the team will not conflict with other teams in the arena, but rather use up “dark ice” time. The new team would practice in the day during the week and play on Fridays and Saturdays, while Austin High School typically practices in the afternoon and plays on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

City council seemed generally supportive of the idea, as four out of six members present during Tuesday’s work session voted to bring the measure to the next regular meeting Feb. 1.

However, councilman Brian McAlister said he simply didn’t support public financing of sports teams, particularly during bleak economic times.

“I just can’t support tax dollars going to sports teams,” he said.

Austin businessman Jim Weber also offered some cautionary thoughts Tuesday. Weber, who was the last owner of the Austin Mavericks junior team which left town in 1985 during the Hormel strike, said Patrick should know his team didn’t make much money back then and sometimes had trouble finding host families for players.

However, Weber said if Patrick understands the risks and challenges of starting a team, he supports him.

“God bless him if he can bring it in and support it,” Weber said. “It’s a great thing for kids.”

The team would be joining the NAHL’s central division, which currently includes the Albert Lea Thunder, the Alexandria Blizzard, the Bismark Bobcats, the North Iowa Outlaws and the Owatonna Express.

Players are typically 18- to 20-year-olds looking to advance to college hockey or higher junior ranks.