It’s official: Junior hockey skates back to Austin

Published 6:56 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By resolving a few loose ends Tuesday night, Austin city council officially paved the way for a new junior hockey franchise in Austin.

Talk of the proposed team surfaced a little more than a month ago, and two weeks ago council approved a contract with Hudson, Wis., businessman Craig Patrick for ice time at Riverside Arena, a deal that included a provision that the city would pay $70,000 upfront in arena renovations.

However, that deal wasn’t an end to the story. Patrick said he wanted to sell beer and wine coolers at games, but to do so the city would have had to change an ordinance — something they failed to do at their last council meeting Feb. 1.

On Tuesday night, that changed, and Patrick was ultimately granted his liquor license. The city also had to formally authorize the $70,000 expenditure, which was done. Though he was traveling and not at the meeting, Patrick said afterward in a phone interview that he was relieved to have the final pieces in place.

“It really sounds like (a done deal),” the former medical devices professional said. “I’m pumped.”

With the liquor license and city funding secured, Patrick said he would move “immediately” to start getting the team — and the arena — ready.

First on his list is selecting a team name and mascot. To do this, Patrick said he hopes to have a Web site launched by the end of the week that will allow fans the chance to submit name ideas. He said if someone submits the name that gets chosen, he or she will receive free season tickets.

Beyond that, Patrick said he would be making offers to coaches and managers this week as well.

Next, he said he’d like to begin his part of arena renovations as soon as the ice is removed from Riverside, which will likely be sometime in April. This work will include shipping in a new Jumbotron monitor and installing new lights.

The city’s side of the deal will include expanding locker rooms and upgrading the media area.

“There are a lot of preparations to be made,” Patrick said. “I’ll be in town a lot.”

Despite the generally strong support from local officials, not everyone was as excited about the news Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Marian Clennon voted against the $70,000 city expenditure, saying that with the state facing an uncertain fiscal future, the city should be as tight as possible. This despite the fact that she actually voted for the contract with Patrick two weeks ago.

The council member said Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal, which was released Monday and included drastic cuts to cities, changed her thinking.

“We need to cut anything and everything,” Clennon said. “(My ‘no’ vote) is basically a money issue.”

Clennon also objected to allowing alcohol at games, noting that she was under the impression they’d be “family events.”

However, Patrick has maintained that the team will be a positive part of the community.

“We’re going to be a good thing for the city of Austin,” he said. “It’s going to be special.”

The Austin franchise is slated to start its season in September. The team would be in the North American Hockey League’s Central Division, competing with the Albert Lea Thunder, the Alexandria Blizzard, the Bismarck Bobcats, the Owatonna Express and the North Iowa Outlaws, who will be moving to Wisconsin next season.