Civic center turning into multi-purpose events, sports center
When Dave Aus accepted the job as Brainerd Warriors boys hockey coach in May he had no idea that Brainerd Area Civic Center was going to undergo a long-overdue major renovation.
Aus, and lakes area residents, will like what they see when construction on the first phase of the newly christened Essentia Health Sports Center (EHSC) is complete in November.
The new name was officially announced Tuesday, and the official groundbreaking was conducted. The Brainerd Amateur Hockey Foundation (BAHF) will transform the civic center into a multi-purpose events and sports center with an approximate price tag of $1.5 million.
Renovations will include handicap accessible restrooms, locker rooms and concession stands. The addition of an elevator will bring access to second-level viewing areas. The entrance will resemble a scaled down version of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"When you drive by the X and see the building with all the glass, it's really cool," Aus said. "I kind of envision that a little bit (in Brainerd) with all the glass they're going to have in front.
"Coming down (Riverside Drive) and seeing the rink, it's a neat view driving up to the building. Now the building will be even better when you add the glass and all that. Architecturally it will be pretty cool looking."
BAHF board member Rodney Rahn said there was no question improvements were necessary.
"The handicapped accessibility, the fact this facility has not been updated in 40 years, speaks for itself," he said, "and anyone that's used it, the complaints we've gotten from it or because of it, that says why we had to do it.
"The question was when. It's always easier to say let's do it tomorrow or next year. The fact is the time is now. Given the board that we have, the community support that we've gotten behind this, it became very clear that the time is now to do this."
EHSC will be more than an arena for hockey games. Hockey camps, figure skating clubs, School District 181 and community organizations like the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Mid-Minnesota Builders Association will benefit from the improvements.
"The other issues we tried to address here were some of the safety features within the facility," BAHF vice president Bob Joyce said, "like moving the Zamboni room to get that out of the high-traffic areas.
"The other thing, and I think Rodney mentioned this, is to freshen it up a little bit. Give it a new look, a new feel inside, get the community excited about it once again.
"We're hopeful this allows us the opportunity to help some of our users grow their programs, be it Minnesota Hockey Camps, the Brainerd hockey association, or the chamber of commerce with the events they will put on here. We'd like to expand the uses of the facility."
Minnesota Hockey Camps in Nisswa is one of the EHSC's main offseason tenants. From pictures that Dino Grillo, one of MHC's owners, has seen he believes the improvements will be an asset as well as being much needed.
"They should be able to attract more dry floor shows, maybe be able to get higher-level concerts in there. Who knows?" Grillo said.
Grillo added that the renovated facility should be an "economic generator."
That helps everyone," he said. "The youth program will have a great facility. Maybe they can have more tournaments, bigger tournaments, more hotels (will be booked).
"We will have more kids come if we have a great facility. They fly into our airport.
"When you look at it that way, it's awesome. Everyone can benefit."