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Erik Burgess, Published November 02 2012

Scheels Arena expansion could be boon for youth hockey

FARGO – Now that the Scheels Arena is no longer skating on thin ice, those who run the south Fargo hockey arena are hoping to complete the original design of a complex with multiple ice sheets.

And that’s welcome news to youth hockey groups in the area, which have long complained of the lack of indoor rinks in the metro.

Matt Magness, president of the Fargo Youth Hockey Association, said youth hockey participation has surged 60 percent in the past four years to about 900 players, but teams are still on just six sheets of ice.

“The only way to do this is more ice, or we’ve got 13-year-olds going on the ice at 10 p.m.,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s any other sport that people would say that’s acceptable.”

More than two-thirds of the $23 million debt on the arena was absolved earlier this week, thanks in part to a hefty anonymous donation. That has spurred the Metro Sports Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the complex, to seek money to add four more sheets of ice.

“It’s not a promise, it’s a hope,” said Bruce Furness, the group’s treasurer. “It wouldn’t be a promise until we had the money.”

The “original vision” of the arena, Furness said, was to build the additional sheets to keep up with the steadily growing youth hockey players in the metro as well as to make Fargo a destination for regional tournaments. This was all going to be built in one fell swoop, but times got tough in the economic downturn of 2008, Furness said.

“We’re excited about it now that we have the funding a little more stable,” Furness said of finishing construction. “We’d like to achieve the original goal.”

It’s not just youth hockey that needs the ice, Magness said, adding that figure skating groups and high school hockey will become more strapped for ice time.

“It sort of becomes a challenge for the entire community,” Magness said.

The additional ice space can make Scheels Arena more of a destination, said Furness.

“It’s going to be just like the Fargodome” or Newman Outdoor Field, he said. “Every one of these kinds of event centers brings people to town.”

The Metro Sports Foundation is beginning fundraising, but because older estimates are out of date, the project’s price tag isn’t clear yet, Furness said.

“I would say all four of them together would cost about a third of what the (entire) arena costs. That’s really a rough estimate,” Furness said. The arena cost $25 million to build.

The main ice used by the Fargo Force has seating for around 5,000. The largest new rink would seat only a couple hundred, Magness said, and the other three would have less than that.

Now that the group has a better handle on the arena’s finances, the possibility of expanding is more attainable, Furness said.

“We’ve made some fundraising calls, nothing definite or anything yet, but people are considering it,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518