Braemar Arena expansion plan in Edina moving forward

BY LISA KACZKE – Sun Newspapers

The process for a $3.2 million plan to add a "Hornet’s Nest" to Braemar Arena and complete improvements to the existing arena has received the green light.

The Edina City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, May 1, moving the Hornet’s Nest plan forward. The next step for the project is the Planning Commission to review the zoning for the project and then it will return to the city council for a public hearing.

About 40 people wearing stickers in support of the Hornet’s Nest attended the city council meeting to hear about the plan.

Braemar Arena was a state-of-art facility when it was built 60 years and it still is, Eric Anderson told the city council. However, the needs and demands of hockey players and figure skaters have changed. He pointed out that when the arena was built, hockey was only played in it during the winter. Now, it’s played 12 months a year.

"The times have changed and Braemar has changed very little," Anderson said.

The plan for the Hornet’s Nest presented to the city council includes two levels with a total of 26,000 square feet. It would be built on the north side of the arena and would be connected to Braemar West Arena with a hallway.

The Hornet’s Nest part of the plan would cost $2.9 million. A condition of the city council’s approval is that $739,000 – 25 percent – would be paid for by private donations. So far, the non-profit Drive for the Hive has verbal commitments from donors for $275,000, Anderson said. The remaining total would be paid for with 20-year bonds.

The lower level would include four new locker rooms for boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity teams. The Zamboni room in West Arena would be relocated to the lower level of the Hornet’s Nest to alleviate safety issues with its current location in front of a well-traveled hallway.

Currently, players on the hockey team are bused to the arena with the bus pulling a rental trailer carrying their gear.

"Our 10 times state champions grab their gear and enter Braemar as though they’re a visiting team," Anderson said.

The upper level of the Hornet’s Nest would include a retail store where equipment for soccer, baseball and hockey could be bought. It would also include an off-ice training facility that would include a shooting area with goalie nets, weight training area and skating treadmills. The training facility would be operated by a private company, which would likely have a 10-year lease agreement.

Councilmember Joni Bennett pointed out that there are several private training facilities already located in Edina and neighboring St. Louis Park.

Anderson responded that one is weight training only and a second is a goalie training facility. The Hornet’s Nest would offer a range of training in a facility connected to an ice sheet, he said.

"When we think of Edina, we’re the premiere community and we want the premiere training," he said.

The Edina Hockey Association has signaled it would be committed if the project moved forward, he said.

Councilmember Josh Sprague said it seemed the Braemar City of the Lakes Figure Skating Club has given mixed signals on whether the project would be useful for it. Anderson responded that the club’s concern is whether its use of the rink would decrease. The figure skating club’s fee is 4 percent of the revenue projected for the Hornet’s Nest.

If the Hornet’s Nest is built, several improvements to the existing Braemar West Arena would be made as part of the project. The total cost of the improvements is $481,300.

If the Zamboni room is relocated, the vacated room in West Arena would be renovated to become a large lobby area to relieve the overcrowding problem in the West Arena lower lobby, according to the plan.

An attaching hallway between the Hornet’s Nest and West Arena would follow the west side of the arena. However, the new hallway will cause some seats to be removed to make room. To make up for the loss in seating, the Plexiglas wall in West Arena’s upper lobby would be converted to an open-air railing for a standing room-only crowd, according to the plan.

The Hornet’s Nest and West Arena improvements would have a loss of $49,500 after payment of debt service in the first year and $26,100 in the 10th year, according to the plan. It would have a net profit of $4,500 in year 20.

New user fees totaling $42,000 a year would be implemented to absorb the losses. The fees include: $12,000 from Edina High School that would be covered by a higher per hour ice rental fee and restructured distribution of the high school hockey game spectator fees; $26,000 from the Edina Hockey Association that would be collected through a $20 per member user fee surcharge; and $4,000 from the figure skating club to be collected through a $20 per member user fee surcharge. The user fee surcharges would be annual and last for the life of the 20-year bonds, according to the plan.

The Edina Hockey Association has given a verbal agreement to the user fee surcharge. The high school and the figure skating club must still give the OK for the plan prior to sale of the bonds, according to the city council’s motion.