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Edina deals with skating spat

07/22/2013, 6:44am CDT
By Mary Jane Smetanka, Star Tribune

With hockey numbers up, the city wants more ice time for pucksters


Emma Richards, 10, practiced with her coach, Sarina David, at one of the rinks at Braemar Arena in Edina on July 18, 2013.

For almost 50 years, the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club has made Edina’s Braemar Arena its home. The club has produced 60 national champions, and one of its synchronized skating teams has taken the junior national crown in four of the last five years.

Now the club is in a faceoff with Edina’s other ice-hungry group, the Edina Hockey Association, over ice time at Braemar. City staff wants the figure skaters to give up some of their prime ice time to hockey, where players are more likely to be Edina residents than are Skating Club members.

The City Council wants to settle the issue by early August. Last week, the council asked representatives of the two skating groups to meet with city staff to try to resolve the issue, something they have been unable to do in previous talks.

Rosalind Wright, co-vice president of the Figure Skating Club, said the club’s future is at stake. She said the city wants to break an agreement about ice time made just last year.

“I feel like we’ve been blindsided,” she said. “I really feel like we’re being bullied here. We have no voice, and it’s all about hockey.”

Ron Green, president of the Edina Hockey Association, said hockey needs more ice time at Braemar, which has three rinks. Parents drive all over the metro for hockey, he said, with skilled players sometimes practicing on small rinks where it’s hard to run good practices. Demand is increasing as more kids, both boys and girls, play hockey.

“We’re 99 percent Edina residents,” he said. “We want [Braemar] to be our home rink. If you look at [figure skating] hours, it’s all prime time stuff. … This has sparked a conversation that’s probably long overdue.”

The discussion came into the open after the City Council asked staff to develop a priority-use policy for Braemar, the only city facility used by youth athletic associations that doesn’t have one. Those associations are defined as groups that have at least 90 percent of their members from Edina.

The hockey group, with 1,323 members, has 99 percent Edina membership. Edina membership in the Figure Skating Club, which has 196 members, is 48 percent. Though the city gave the Edina Swim Club an exception and allowed it to have just 60 percent Edina membership, in June city staff recommended that the Figure Skating Club lose its status as a recognized youth athletic association.

So under the city’s proposal, the Skating Club would rank at the bottom of the priority list for Braemar ice time, behind city functions, Edina High School hockey teams and recognized city youth athletic associations.

Edina Parks and Recreation Director Ann Kattreh told the City Council the average Edina hockey player spends just over an hour a week on Braemar ice and three to four hours at other arenas. She said the average figure skater spends almost four hours at Braemar.

She recommended the Figure Skating Club get 20 hours of ice time each week, a reduction of almost 11 hours. The hours cut were the practice times for the synchronized skating team, which placed third in the world in 2011.

Some council members said they strongly believe groups dominated by Edina residents should have priority at Braemar, which is taxpayer-supported. Mayor Jim Hovland said the Skating Club represents Edina, too. He worried about issues tied to competitive figure skating, including requirements that a club have a home arena and a prohibition against arenas that host a club from renting to competing groups.

“I think the real risk here is that the proposal that is coming from staff is not viable in making it work for the figure skating folks,” he said.

Demand for ice may mean the city needs to explore the possibility of adding a fourth sheet of ice outdoors near Braemar, Hovland said.

With 21 other figure skating clubs in the area, Wright said, her club could have trouble finding new practice space. She said cutting the practice hours of the award-winning synchronized skating group could kill that group. “We can’t maintain that elite team,” she said. “I’d worry that we’d lose coaches, and in a short period of time, it would die.”

Susie Miller, Braemar’s general manager, said she believes figure skating could find ice time at arenas that aren’t associated with a skating club.

Perhaps most upsetting to figure skating officials is that they thought their ice time at Braemar was guaranteed for 20 years under an agreement made with the city last year. The club agreed to pay $20 per year per member to help pay for new hockey locker rooms at Braemar, which was renovated last year. In return, the city said it would give the Skating Club priority scheduling for its current ice times.

“We want the city to honor our good-faith agreement,” Wright said.

Said Miller: “I’m not proud of that part of it.” If the city breaks the agreement, it will lose about $2,500 a year.

“It’s very challenging,” Miller said. “We’ve got two incredibly successful programs. I wish there was plenty of ice, but there isn’t.”

Meetings to try to reach a compromise are set for next week. City Manager Scott Neal will be a participant.

Green and Wright said they hope the issue can be worked out.

“We just want some proportional distribution of ice time relative to the proportion of residents in both groups,” Green said. “And we’d like some prime time to get families to the rink.”

Said Wright: “We’re really proud of our rich history. … We’re willing to cooperate and be a good neighbor, but we’re not going to roll over and die.”

 

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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