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Perham OKs park site for hockey arena

Perham seems to be well on its way to becoming a hockey town.

At its meeting on Monday night, the city council voted to approve a deal between the city and the Perham Area Youth Hockey Association (PAYHA) to establish a site on the east side of Arvig Park for a hockey arena that had been discussed at last month's special council meeting.

After reading about Perham's fledgling hockey program in an article in USA Hockey magazine, a New York group approached PAYHA about donating its facility.

PAYHA agreed to pay the group $60,000, in addition to transportation costs. Once the New York City Parks and Recreation Department approved the deal, PAYHA had a limited window to get the arena shipped to Perham, which is why PAYHA had already started bringing the arena to town even though no site had been approved.

The issue was unresolved from last month's meeting because the council had several questions and concerns relating to costs of bringing utilities to Arvig Park, which PAYHA had identified as the best site for the facility.

Also left unresolved was what role the city would play in the establishment of the arena, and how much money financially it would contribute.

After some research, Trent Swanson of PAYHA told the council that a hook up for sewer and water would cost about $15,000.

The cost would be substantially more, Swanson said, except that Arvig Communication Systems (ACS) in town has already committed to boring a trench for the hook ups.

Swanson estimated that insurance for the hockey arena would figure out to be an annual premium of between $7,500-$13,000.

Sewage and bathrooms have continued to be the problem issue, Swanson said.

An external building that would include restrooms and locker rooms would likely cost $120,000, and putting up the arena structure would cost about $149,000. With only $110,000 in the bank, PAYHA would need to go back to fundraising to meet the costs.

Swanson said he had waited to do a lot of the fundraising until he had a better idea of the project costs. PAYHA is also looking at grant opportunities.

Council member Fred Lehmkuhl asked if there had been any research done on the potential economic impacts of a new ice arena. Swanson cited a study done on Minnesota communities the size of Perham that said one weekend tournament could bring in upwards of $300,000 to the community.

Because of the potential for a community benefit, Swanson said, he had been hoping for a larger contribution from the city.

"But I understand the economics of the day," he added.

The main issue of discussion continued to be bathrooms, and the difference between what's required of a private vs. public facility.

"As soon as you talk about opening the structure up to the public or tournaments, then it becomes an issue," Dave Neisen said.

"We know we have to comply (to the code), and we're still looking at the best ways to do that in the budget that we raised," Swanson said.

PAYHA has no immediate timeline for how soon they will erect the building. Swanson said it depends partially on whether or not the group is able to find a short-term solution for bathroom facilities.

Swanson also wanted to make clear that PAYHA is not related to the Perham-Dent School District in any way, and has not yet contacted school officials.

"The school and PAYHA have nothing to do with each other," he said.

Although, if the school were to use the arena for other sports, then there would have to be discussions about a potential fee, Mayor Tim Meehl said.

Lehmkuhl then offered a motion asking to table the issue for another month, and for PAYHA and the city to put down a lease in writing. The motion was not seconded, and died.

Council member Jim Johnson then offered a second motion to establish a lease between the city and PAYHA for a small monetary number, and to lease the land for a 5-year renewal, with the city being responsible for sewer and water, a natural gas connection and snow plowing.

There were no details available at the meeting regarding the cost to the city for providing those services.

PAYHA would be responsible for water and sewer hook ups, as well as insurance and any other costs.

There was some confusion about the whether or not the lease would be establishing PAYHA as a 'private' enterprise on city land.

"I have a problem putting a private structure on public property," Lehkuhl said.

City Attorney Dennis Happel compared the potential PAYHA lease to something like the East Otter Tail County Historical Society.

The council then voted 3-2 to approve the motion and the lease, with Lehmkuhl and Mattfeld voting against. Meehl cast the tie-breaking vote.

Both Mattfeld and Lehmkuhl indicated that they were for the arena, but that they just wanted to see the lease down in writing before agreeing to it.