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Could Perham become a hockey haven? Proposed arena could bring tournaments, expand program

Hockey in Perham has come a long way in two years, and more growth could be on the horizon if a proposed arena is approved by the city council.

At last Wednesday's special council meeting, the council heard a presentation from Trent Swanson of Perham Area Youth Hockey Association (PAYHA) regarding the proposed arena.

According to Swanson, the impetus for an arena in Perham started when an article was published in the "USA Hockey" national magazine. The article discussed Perham and the community's desire to grow a hockey program.

PAYHA started with just eight kids in 2009, and grew to 34 in 2010.

"We're trying to expand opportunities for kids to play sports in winter," Swanson said.

To continue to grow PAYHA, he added, it is important to have indoor ice that keeps kids out of the elements.

The article, Swanson said, caught the attention of a group in New York City, who owned a used dome-type arena. The group contacted PAYHA and said that they wanted to donate the arena, although PAYHA would have to pick up costs associated with transporting it.

Swanson flew out to Staten Island, N.Y., to inspect the arena. Used, the structure has a market value of $300,000 he said, while a brand new building would cost $1.4 million.

PAYHA agreed to pay the group $60,000, in addition to transportation costs. The New York City Parks and Recreation Department approved the deal.

The structure is 17 years old, and Swanson estimated it would last for more than 25 years.

However, two parts of the structure have already been replaced, which Swanson said would help maintain the longevity of the arena.

The structure, on its own, is only the roof and the space for the rinks. PAYHA would need to build a building onto the arena so that there could be restrooms or locker rooms. Until then, Swanson pointed to job-site trailers used by Wadena in the past as temporary options.

Swenson said that PAYHA has identified the east side of Arvig Park as an ideal location for the arena, with space for expansion as well as parking.

Generating revenue

Swanson said there are a number of ways that PAYHA could generate revenue with the new arena. Wadena's hockey program, which does not have an arena, has been discussing with PAYHA possible rent to use Perham's arena.

Other sports or activities could also use the arena, Swanson said, such as tennis, baseball, horse riding and more.

Additionally, PAYHA is on the docket to bid for regional and district tournaments, he said, which could have a "substantial" economic impact for the Perham community.

Detroit Lakes has also expressed interest in going after bigger tournaments, and having an indoor arena in Perham would help their cause, Swanson said.

While the project has been in the works for some time now, Swanson said "we wanted to make sure we could bring it here, that it was affordable and that it was a smart design."

The structure has already started to arrive in Perham, Swanson said.

"We've purchased it. It's here. We just need to figure out where it goes," he said.

Council concerns

The city council had several questions and concerns about the arena, ranging from how to get utilities, such as sewer, water and gas to the arena, to restrooms and to insurance.

Michelle Baker of PAYHA said that the group would prefer that the city provide insurance for the arena, but City Manager Kelcey Klemm said the city would prefer that PAYHA insure it.

The risk to the city in helping out, Swanson said, is minimal.

"Worst case scenario," Swanson said, "three years from now, if we have massive failure and the structure turns into the Metrodome, then we have two full sheets of ice, and PAYHA is tasked with how to cover it again."

"The concern is what's going to happen seven years from now," Klemm said. "We've been bitten quite a few times on deals that we've made."

"It wouldn't be on the city," Swanson replied. "We could ironclad that into the contract."

City attorney Dennis Happel suggested that either the city or PAYHA look into actual costs of getting water or sewer to Arvig Park site before any decisions get made.

Dave Neisen also expressed concern about using trailers for restrooms.

"There's no way to get by without public restrooms or handicap accessibility," he said. "I just don't see any way around it."

"Restrooms are the biggest question at this point," Swanson said. After some discussion, it was agreed that it would be possible for PAYHA to get by with trailer restrooms, although it would take some work to make the trailers handicap accessible.

Council member Harriet Mattfeld asked Swanson who would be responsible for preparing the arena for other uses, such as for a wedding. Swanson said that the renters of the arena would be responsible for that.

Council member Fred Lehmkuhl then suggested that the issue go back to various committees for discussion.

"I'm not ready to make a decision tonight," he said. "There are too many questions by too many people."

Meehl agreed, saying, "I think it's a good deal, but let's make sure we do it right."

The council will take up the arena issue again at the Monday, Aug. 8 regular meeting. A special meeting has also been scheduled later in the month for further discussion.