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A third sheet of ice at Alexandria's RCC?

Should a third sheet of ice be added at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria?

Yes, says a subcommittee that was formed by the city to explore the possibility of building an event center at the existing RCC or at an alternative site.

The subcommittee considered three scenarios -- expanding the RCC with another sheet of ice that would also convert to 17,000 square feet of flat floor space; adding the ice and floor space and also integrating an 8,000 square-foot multipurpose meeting room and a flexible wall system at the RCC; or building an entirely new event center near Interstate 94, with no ice, but with 22,000 square feet of space with a flexible wall system.

The subcommittee recommended the RCC Commission pursue the first option and work with “user groups” such as the Alexandria Area Hockey Association, the Alexandria Figure Skating Club and the Viking Curling Club to lead the design and implementation of a third sheet of ice.

The subcommittee based its decision on a study of projected expenses, revenues and economic impact. Dan Folsom, chair of the subcommitee, presented the results of the study to the Alexandria City Council at its meeting Monday night.

The study estimated that after five years of operation, it would cost $995,000 annually to operate the expanded area at the RCC. Revenues would bring in $971,000, leaving a net loss of $24,000.

The project, however, is expected to create 13 jobs, bring in just over $1 million in new direct spending in the city and generate incremental tax revenue of $71,800. It would also alleviate the heavy demand for ice time at the RCC.

The other options presented a greater risk, annual losses of $138,000 for the second option and $306,000 for building a new event center. 

The council voted to accept the study and give the recommendations to the RCC Commission. The city hasn’t committed any money to the project.

The study itself was funded through the Otto Bremer Foundation ($20,000), Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality (AHH) ($9,000), the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission ($5,000) and the city of Alexandria ($2,607).

The subcommittee, Folsom said, has completed its work and should be dissolved. The subcommittee recommended that AHH should lead any future efforts to build a new event center by nurturing private-public partnerships, which Folsom described as essential.   

In other action, the council:

--Agreed to take action against Blue Smoke BBQ by deeming it as a hazardous building. The restaurant on 3rd Avenue East was gutted by a fire last summer and has been vacant ever since. City Attorney Tom Jacobson said he's been refraining from forcing the owners to clean up the property because he was hoping that they'd reach an agreement with their insurance company. But now he recommended the city to "light a fire" under the owners to get the building demolished.

--Gave preliminary approval to a gas energy franchise fee ordinance with CenterPoint Energy. The company will give the city 5 percent of its gross revenues. This is the same percentage that was adopted in 2004. In 2012, the city collected $277,314 from the fee and will receive about $380,000 in 2013. In related action, the council approved final action on the overall gas franchise ordinance with CenterPoint.

--Approved an agreement that allows Douglas County to provide technical support to the city attorney’s office, giving it more reliable access to the state’s new system known as “eCharging,” in which criminal charges are filed electronically. The county has a secure connection to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s eCharging service. The county will charge the city an hourly fee of $50 for the technical support. With the BCA system, the city attorney's office expects it will be able to upload lengthy criminal complaints in a couple of minutes instead of a half hour to 45 minutes.

--Issued a conditional use permit to Royal Tire Automotive. This allows the auto repair operation at 115 50th Avenue West, to build a 20-by-60 foot addition at the north end of its existing building. Two service bays are being added and the tire storage area will be moved. Two additional parking stalls are required for each service bay.

--Called for bids on a “Safe Routes to School” project that is designed to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in and around Lincoln Elementary School. Bids on the project, which includes building sidewalks, were rejected last September because they were too high. All the money for the project would be covered under a federal transportation program.

--Aprroved a purchase agreement for 7.9 acres of wetland credits that will mitigate the loss of wetlands that will occur when 50th Avenue is reconstructed this summer. The cost of the credits, $177,995, will be eligible for state aid and federal funds.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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