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Dirt today, ice tomorrow: Construction underway on second BCA rink

A groundbreaking ceremony for the addition to the Bemidji Community Arena was held Thursday in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 4
An architectural rendering of the Bemidji Community Arena with the addition of a second sheet of ice. Submitted. 2 / 4
Hugh Welle, board member for the Bemidji Community Arena Corp., speaks Thursday during a brief ceremony for the addition to the arena in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 4
An architectural rendering of the inside of the new addition to the Bemidji Community Arena. Submitted. 4 / 4

BEMIDJI—Thursday was a long day coming for Bemidji hockey.

Bemidji Community Arena Corp. leaders and community members were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony on a second rink that will be built at the facility near Bemidji High School.

An architectural rendering of the Bemidji Community Arena with the addition of a second sheet of ice. Submitted.The new rink will be attached to the existing arena on Division Street, and will feature additional locker rooms, a two-story training area, and seating for a few hundred people.

The second rink has been part of the long-term plans for the arena from the beginning. The arena was built in phases beginning in 2000 as more funds were raised.

"It's been more than 20 years in the making," said BCAC board member Hugh Welle, who has been involved with the project since initial fundraising efforts began in 1996.

The outer shell of the new rink is expected to be completed this fall before construction halts for the winter. Work on the remainder of the building, including the interior, is slated to be finished by fall 2019.

Bemidji's first two-rink facility will create additional ice availability, and ease the burden on aging Neilson Reise Arena and Nymore Arena, which were built in 1964 and 1973.

"Both those buildings are 40 years old and need repair and investment," Welle said. "And so this hopefully will take the pressure off of the demand we have in the community for ice."

"Especially in the case of Nymore, it doesn't seem to make sense to put millions of dollars into a steel building when you could have a state-of-the-art, efficient facility right across from the high school to last for a hundred years," added BCAC board president Dale Thompson.

Economic generator

Hockey, unsurprisingly, is an important sport to Bemidji.

The Bemidji Youth Hockey Association, which owns the BCA, generates more than $7.5 million annually for the local economy, according to the Headwaters Regional Development Commission. That includes youth hockey tournaments that draw families to the city.

"The tournament income and the economic impact in Bemidji as a result of visiting teams and families is significant," Welle said. "In my lifetime involvement with the organization, we had hardly nothing in the way of revenue from tournament entry fees. Now, over the last five to seven years, that's built up to be a significant income source for the local youth hockey organization, as well as the impact that's had on the community."

Eventually the arena could host additional tournaments outside of the typical winter hockey season.

The Bemidji High School boys and girls hockey teams currently practice at Nymore, but there's a possibility they could practice at the new rink, though that depends on scheduling with the youth hockey program.

The second rink expansion project will ultimately cost $4.7 million. Of that, $2.9 million has already been raised with funds coming from the George W. Neilson Foundation, BCA advertising and marketing, and BCAC board member pledges, as well as additional grants and business pledges.

An additional $500,000 is to be raised by BYHA participants and families, leaving $1.3 million that will need to be raised over the next year. A fundraising effort will seek contributions from the business community and the project's longtime supporters.

"The good thing about (the project) is it's done without tax dollars," Thompson said. "It's being constructed without tax dollars, and it is being maintained without tax dollars. It's all done by volunteers and paid for by the users of the facility, and especially our supporters like George Neilson Foundation."

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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