MSU looks to build $4M sports dome

November 15, 2018

MANKATO — A $4 million inflatable athletics bubble, long coveted by Mankato youth sports associations, could be in place on the Minnesota State University campus by October if MSU students give their blessing in a Dec. 4 election.

Students will be asked to approve a fee increase of up to $10 a semester to cover half of the cost of the seasonal dome, which would be the size of 1 1/2 soccer fields. Use of the facility, which would be located along Monks Avenue on the southeast corner of campus, would be divided between the general student population, MSU sports teams and the broader Mankato community.

And MSU intends to finance both the construction and the operations of the dome without taxpayer support, said Vice President for Student Affairs David Jones.

“We have no plan to approach the city for sales tax dollars,” Jones said.

Mankato voters and the state Legislature approved the extension of a local half-percent sales tax to finance a recreational sports facilities, including a possible indoor soccer dome, along with other community infrastructure.

The requested amenities — ranging from a tennis dome to a competition-quality indoor swimming pool to new hockey rinks — exceeds the available revenue. So the creation of a sports bubble without reliance on the sales tax could make room for other facilities.

“It keeps that revenue in town and allows it to go to other priority project we hope will come forward,” said Patrick Baker, vice president of Greater Mankato Growth, which serves as the local chamber of commerce and has been an advocate for more sports facilities in the community.

“For us, it’s about talent recruitment, talent retention,” Baker said.

A sports bubble where young workers and their families can play makes Mankato more attractive in the growing competition between communities for employees. And MSU’s proposal is setting aside a significant portion of the facility’s hours for community use, according to Baker.

“And some pretty good hours,” Baker said of the late-afternoon and early-evening times that the bubble would be rented to community users. “So I’m excited about that. I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for community use of that facility.”

MSU’s plan is to finance up to half of the dome’s cost with available funding from the statewide college and university system, which would have to be repaid over 10 years. The student fees would cover the other half.

Existing student fees, collected to provide sports and recreational opportunities on campus, plus rental fees paid by local sports associations and other outside users of the dome would cover the $325,000-$400,000 annual operational costs, Jones said.

Because that outside revenue would be necessary to finance operating expenses, the financing plan virtually requires that dome would be available for youth soccer, lacrosse, softball, football and other field teams.

“The plan is to have a third of the hours available for community use,” he said.

The dome would likely be in operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Oct. 15 to April 15 with hours possibly extending even later if city officials sign off, Jones said. With an artificial-turf playing field, the facility would be available for outdoor sports when the dome is deflated and put in storage during the warm-weather months.

Its location next to MSU’s free-parking lot means the facility’s cost won’t be inflated by the need to construct parking.

The dome would be used as a practice facility for MSU sports teams from 2-5 p.m. weekdays and would serve as a classroom for certain college courses. MSU students involved in intramural sports or club teams would benefit, along with those seeking indoor exercise space during the winter months.

The dome also could be a boost to local sports tourism, namely youth sports tournaments and clinics that would attract athletes and their families from the broader region, Jones said.

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