Brooklyn Park’s plan to convert an ice rink into basketball courts ignites heated debate
City leaders secured state funding but say the plan is “not official”
The City of Brooklyn Park received $5 million from the Minnesota Legislature to update its community center, specifically, to create some city-owned basketball courts, something the city does not presently have. The addition of three courts, as approved by lawmakers this spring, would come at the cost of one of two ice rinks at the Community Activity Center, and it’s sparked debate among residents.
Sarah Fercho, president of the 86-member Three Rivers Figure Skating Club, says she first heard about the proposal to convert one ice arena into three basketball courts after the funding was requested. Soon after, it was approved.
The plan went through the city’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Commission — which “studies issues relative to public parks and recreation,” according to Brooklyn Park’s website — in Nov. 2022, said Parks and Recreation Director Brad Tullberg in an interview on Monday, adding, it was not a “robust community engagement that we would have typically.”
“And again, it was a project being considered given the [downward] trends that we had been seeing in our ice rentals,” Tullberg continued.
Without two rinks, Fercho said, the non-profit club’s fundraising events would take a “significant” hit.
“In the grand scheme of things, there are many more users that are impacted in many different ways,” she said, adding, “Totino-Grace, for example, would be totally not able to use this space.”
Totino-Grace High School Activities and Transportation Director Mike Smith confirmed that to be true in an email to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Monday.
“The impact this decision would have on Totino-Grace is that we would be forced out,” Smith said.
“With only 1 sheet of ice, there is no possible way that the Brooklyn Park Community Activity would be able to be our home arena.”
Presidents of both the Osseo Maple Grove Hockey Association and Champlin Park Youth Hockey expressed they also anticipate negative effects if the community center were to lose a rink, calling the expected impact “significant” and “a sad day for hockey families,” respectively.
On the other hand, Brooklyn Park currently has no city-owned hoops. There is a gym in the community center, but it belongs to the National Guard, which splits time with the public.
About a dozen residents in recent public comment to the Brooklyn Park City Council last week said the change would be overdue. Some who spoke in support of adding basketball courts requested council members find a way to do both. Others said the primary need is for basketball courts and asked members to “stick to the plan.”
“It’s important to our community, important to me, it is important to the families that I serve, and we are asking that you do the right thing,” shared Monique Stumon, director of the School Readiness Learning Academy.
The city needs basketball courts, Fercho agreed. The problem, she said, is that few people knew that the community’s ask for courts would become an either-or scenario.
The debate has been centered around the $5 million that the city received from the Legislature this spring, specifically set aside for that rink-to-courts conversion. Use of the funding, as written, is restricted to that, a spokesperson for the bill authors confirmed.
Even so, Tullburg on Monday — and Mayor Hollies Winston during the Oct. 23 City Council meeting — maintained that the plan is not “set in stone.”
“We have been in contact with our legislative folks about the potential to amend the language,” Tullberg added.
Asked to explain the “change of heart” after the funding was secured, Tullberg said, “We’re considering other options, just as the community has come forth saying — requesting us to look at additional options besides converting the ice arena, and so we’ve embarked on that process.”
The city is also considering the creation of a separate gym and keeping both ice rinks as an option, Tullberg said, adding that the $5 million is roughly a third of the funding that would be needed for the conversion and all other needed updates to the building.