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Other view: Sanford Center arena envy grips Mankato

MANKATO (AP) - I walked around the south side of the Sanford Center -- the year-old arena on the shore of Lake Bemidji that houses the Bemidji State hockey team -- on Friday night. It was dark and cold, and the media entrance seemed to be a long ...

MANKATO (AP) - I walked around the south side of the Sanford Center -- the year-old arena on the shore of Lake Bemidji that houses the Bemidji State hockey team -- on Friday night. It was dark and cold, and the media entrance seemed to be a long trek from my parking spot.

But a bright light shone up ahead. It was the glow of inside lights behind a wall of windows. There was the weight/exercise room for the Beavers hockey team, and a few players were in there warming up about 90 minutes before their game against Minnesota State.

This, I thought, is one of the things Mankato's Verizon Wireless Center doesn't have. I wondered if it's in its future plans.

I walked a few more yards, and another window was lit up. Inside, Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore could be seen sitting at his desk, presumably going over last-minute details and strategy before the game. The next set of windows showed off a nice BSU-themed waiting area that, no doubt, is a great spot for a potential recruit to begin his tour.

Two weeks ago, the city of Mankato and Minnesota State made a pitch for state bonding money that would be used to upgrade and renovate portions of the Verizon Wireless Center. Included in their plan is a $6 million project to update the arena rink and permanently house the MSU men's and women's teams downtown.

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A little more than two months ago, I opined that city and university leaders need to go to Duluth and get some ideas from that city's new Amsoil Arena before they start tweaking the civic center. If indeed they do that, they should swing through Bemidji, too.

They did it right at the Sanford Center, both for hockey fans and the teams. And for about $45 million, including $23 million in state bonding funds, they should have.

Mankato, which has never received state money for its arena (Duluth's has and St. Cloud received bonding money for part of its renovation project), would be lucky to have a building like the Sanford Center -- or at least a few of its amenities.

This is not to disparage the Verizon Wireless Center completely. Some of its deficiencies simply stem from the fact that it is now 17 years old. In arena years, that's middle-aged or older.

Since the civic center was built, several other arenas in college-hockey communities have caught up to or surpassed the place.

What's good about Bemidji's rink?

It has 4,500 green seats -- the school's color -- as well as banners highlighting the program's history, even back to the Division II days. There's a four-screen, high-definition video scoreboard above center ice.

The booster club room/bar is in the arena, overlooking the ice, and includes a couple of vast lounge areas. People who occupy the building's 25 suites have access to it, but it's also open to all fans for about an hour after the game.

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The press box is first rate, but my favorite thing: You can get a darn good prime rib sandwich carved for you for 8 bucks out in the concourse.

Under the stands, where the hockey team is housed, you can find the weight room and the coaches offices, as well as spacious training and equipment rooms, a media press conference room and a home-team dressing room that is said to rival that of many NHL teams.

Many of those items are on Mankato's wish list -- if the bonding money comes through. Can it all be done for $6 million? Can it be done to the quality of the Sanford Center? We'll see.

When the WCHA breaks up after the 2012-13 season, Minnesota State expects to be one of the top programs in the revamped conference. The planned upgrades will help. Right now, though, it's clear who will have the best rink.

Shane Frederick is Mankato Free Press sports writer and covers MSU, Mankato hockey.

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The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.
The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.
The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.