After several swings and misses, state funding for upgrades to the Verizon Wireless Center finally appear to be a reality.
Passed by both houses of the Minnesota legislature, the borrowing and spending bills for construction projects include $14.5 million for a long-wished-for Mankato civic center project. So, in all it's about a $30 million project.
Part of that money will go to hockey-specific improvements and making the arena the full-time home of the Minnesota State men's and women's programs.
According to Dan Linehan's Free Press' coverage of the bill', which is expected to be signed by the governor, the entire project will include the state money and an equal share of local sales tax funding. About $4 has been spent on arena improvements already, the story says. Last year, a new floor and rink system was put in place, and the arena's seats were replaced.
The next phase of the project is expected to begin in the fall, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said. However, the hockey portion likely won't begin until the following March, after the upcoming season.
Plans shown to members of the bonding committee a few months ago showed a major hockey renovation for team use. It included new dressing rooms for the men's and women's teams, as well as visiting-team and youth locker rooms moved to the east side of the rink. Also, there were coaches offices and a recruiting area as well as a player lounge and space for athletic training, dryland workout (weight room, etc.) and dining.
Last August, Hentges said that, after a recent tour of Bemidji's now 4-year-old Sanford Center, the Verizon Wireless Center upgrades "will be far and away classier."
"It's got everything and is probably a far-superior layout to what I saw in Bemidji," he said. "I think we're on the right path."
The only thing not included in the project, at least at the time, was a large video scoreboard capable of showing replays.
But the upgrades should be a good step for Minnesota State as it tries to keep up in the fast-moving world of hockey facilities. New rinks in Bemidji and Duluth, which received state money for their construction, have received much praise, and St. Cloud State's major renovation to the National Hockey Center, partially funded by state money, is turning heads.
Nebraska Omaha is building a new on-campus rink, and the standard bearer for hockey arena's, North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena, is getting a major locker-room and team-area overhaul this summer, despite the arena being just 13 years old.