Arena: Legacy of hockey, figure skating and even dog shows

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Editor’s note: The following is the third of four stories tied to the facilities that are part of the upcoming referendum for the city of Albert Lea.

What do hockey, figure skating and dog shows have in common? In Albert Lea, they’re all based at the City Arena, 701 Lake Chapeau Drive. For almost 50 years, the arena has supported a variety of recreation, proof of Albert Lea’s commitment to recreation for all generations.

The city converted the former Lea College Field House to an ice arena in the mid-1970s. It opened in 1976 with a ribbon-cutting by then Mayor Paul Larimore and School District 241 representatives. The first hockey players on the ice represented two Park League Squirts teams. Members of the Albert Lea Figure Skating Club performed to the “Nutcracker Suite.”

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Twenty-two years later, hockey advocates and the city partnered to add the second sheet of ice. Thanks to diligent maintenance, its original refrigeration system is still running after 26 years. Often called the back ice, it’s officially named the Colstrup Rink after Carol Colstrup, one of the founders of the figure skating club and a long-time coach. The front ice is named the Nystrom Rink after Roy Nystrom, a long-time coach of the Albert Lea High School boys’ hockey team.

Over the decades, the arena has supported many levels of hockey from mites up to college, plus numerous other activities. The arena is home to the Albert Lea Hockey Association, high school hockey teams, Figure Skating Club, Freeborn County Kennel Club (off the ice) and Waldorf University hockey teams from Forest City.

With 49,000 visitors a year, 220 hockey games, plus 10 to 12 tournaments a season, an annual dog show and a yearly figure skating show, the arena is the city’s most-used facility.

The Recreation Department estimates the economic impact from youth hockey alone at $1 million a season spent at local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

In recent years, the city has replaced the roof on the flat portion of the building and some of the interior flooring. It also installed bleachers with handicap accessibility.

Albert Lea voters will decide on April 9 whether to support funding for a new refrigeration system that can serve both rinks, a new floor for the practice rink, frost removal below that floor and fixing the drainage. The proposal also calls for expanding the lobby and implementing several projects to save on energy.

Altogether, the $9.8 million proposal would improve the City Arena, Marion Ross Theater, Aquatic Center and Splash Pad.