Braemar Arena

The Edina City Council recently approved amendments to the city’s Braemar Park Master Plan to include an expansion of Braemar Arena. (Sun Current file photo by Caitlin Anderson)

The Edina City Council voted last week in support of amending the Braemar Park Master Plan, including a vision to expand the hockey arena.

City staff brought forward the amendments to the council May 17, citing increased infrastructure needs and a special request by Edina hockey advocates to expand the arena. The council voted unanimously to amend the plan – the funding of which is still set to be decided by voters this November.

The Braemar Park Master Plan, adopted in 2018, includes a vision for improvements to trails, natural resources and sites around the park, including Courtney Fields and the golf course. On Nov. 8, Edina voters will be asked through a referendum whether they wish to impose a half-percent sales tax in order to fund the park’s master plan in addition to a plan for Fred Richards Park.

“It’s a very robust plan,” Parks & Recreation Director Perry Vetter said of the Braemar Park Master Plan at the council meeting. “It has a lot of opportunity for the active user, a lot of opportunity for the passive user.”

Aspects of the park are in need of greater evaluation and infrastructure improvements, leading to the proposal to amend the plan, city documents show.

A part of the amendments approved by the council at the meeting were facility needs and revenue assessment studies for the Braemar Golf Clubhouse and Golf Dome. The studies are intended to analyze the needs of the facility and community in addition to the potential for future revenue at each of the sites. The funding for these evaluations will not be included as part of the referendum this fall, city documents said.

Braemar Arena capital infrastructure needs were also adopted as part of the amendments brought forward. These needs will be included as part of the referendum, where voters will decide whether to fund $21.6 million in sales tax collections for the Braemar Park Master Plan.

Currently, Braemar Arena has three indoor sheets of ice and one outdoor sheet of ice, called the Backyard Rink. Many of the arena’s assets are original, dating back to the 1960s, Vetter told the council.

The staff report lists the capital infrastructure needs that are unfunded and not scheduled as part of the city’s current 2021-26 Capital Improvement Plan. These needs encompass ADA-compliant improvements like walkways and seating changes, as well as replacements to the electrical systems, flooring and ice refrigeration. Permafrost removal, waterproofing and fire protection improvements are also listed.

Adding such capital improvements to the master plan “gives us the opportunity to really look holistically at that renovation,” Vetter told the council.

Local hockey advocates – largely those involved in the Ikola Cup – have been in conversations with city staff since 2019 on ways to revitalize the arena, which they have said is deteriorating. In 2021, an Edina hockey coach and parent, Peter Fitzgerald, presented a request to the Edina Parks & Recreation Commission to expand the arena.

Following that proposal, the city launched an arena expansion study, resulting in an operational analysis report completed by Ballard King & Associates, a recreation consulting firm.

As part of the expansion request, the city would remove the south arena and replace it with two indoor sheets of ice. A structured parking lot, expanded lobby and dedicated circular drop-off space are also included in the plans.

Heeding the request, the city asked the Legislature earlier this year for the ability to collect additional funds – $25.3 million – through the sales tax to make such changes to the arena.

The 2022 legislative session officially ended at midnight of May 22, with legislators failing to come to agreements on several bills, including the tax bill. The current iteration of the Tax Conference Committee’s bill contains language granting the city’s request, but the bill as a whole must still be agreed upon by the legislature before becoming official.

As of Jan. 23, the tax bill had not yet been signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz.

Regardless of the outcome of the legislative request, an expansion of the arena was included in the amended version of the Braemar Park Master Plan following the council vote.

An operational analysis by Ballard King, which based its findings on interviews with arena stakeholders, studied the impact of an additional indoor sheet of ice in the arena, totaling four instead of the current three sheets.

A base projection in the analysis shows that increased net revenue is expected with the fourth indoor sheet of ice, city documents said. The arena currently operates at a loss – with funds from Edina Liquor profits picking up the slack – but would reduce that loss with an additional sheet of ice, the analysis found.

Vetter told the council that while the Braemar Park Master Plan sets “the vision” for the park, the amendments don’t allocate funding or prompt land-use changes. “Those pieces still need to occur naturally,” he said.

In their comments prior to the affirmative vote, Councilmembers James Pierce and Ron Anderson focused on the ADA-compliance aspects of the amendments and other maintenance necessities, noting their importance going forward.

“Those are things we have to do,” Anderson said.

Anderson also recognized the various groups that use the arena, such as many Edina families, figure skaters and the Da Beauty League. “Positioning ourselves to serve all of those constituencies better, I think, is an important consideration,” he said.

“It’s clear we haven’t been maintaining this facility,” Pierce said, adding that he wants to see a plan for ongoing upkeep “because (the arena) is a gem of the community.”

Pierce said he would like the city to be more “aggressive” about ADA compliance and ensuring everyone in the community can experience the arena’s amenities – beyond just providing access and accommodations.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

Copyright ©2022 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

Load comments