Eagan, Inver Grove Heights officials look to study feasibility of sports complex in south metro

Erin Adler, Star Tribune
·3 min read

City officials in Eagan and Inver Grove Heights want to study the feasibility of building an amateur sports complex in Dakota County, an area they say may be ripe for more athletic facilities.

The effort — which could one day include outdoor fields, indoor gym space or a pool — is being led by officials from the two cities. The Inver Grove Heights City Council last week added the funding request to their Legislative priorities list.

"We are all quite familiar with the facility up in Blaine," said Heather Rand, Inver Grove Heights' community development director and interim city administrator, referencing the National Sports Center in the north metro. "I've been told that having a facility that's close to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport would be preferable in the future."

The idea received a boost Monday with measures introduced at the Legislature seeking $100,000 for a study of possible sites, user demand, costs and funding needs. The study would be led by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission.

"There's clearly a lot of desire," said Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins, who sits on the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, citing interest from professional teams, coaches and the amateur sports community.

Todd Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission and the National Sports Center in Blaine, said he thinks Dakota County officials are smart to ask for funding for a study before diving in.

"I would want to look at the data, but I've got to believe the numbers are there if it's done right," Johnson said of demand in the south metro.

Johnson said indoor basketball and volleyball courts and 50-meter swimming pools seem to be types of facilities lacking south of the river. A new facility would need to host a mix of different sports on a fairly large scale to work financially, he said.

Dave Osberg, city administrator in Eagan, said the City Council has voiced support for studying the idea.

Details are scarce so early in the process, Rand said, calling the Inver Grove Heights council's actions last week a "very first baby step" toward a sports complex that would serve adult and youth athletes.

If there's more than one facility, Rand said, "the desire would be that facilities be co-located, so some within in the city of Inver Grove Heights and some within the city of Eagan."

Conducting the study and analyzing its results would allow officials to start looking for sites, Rand said.

Building sports facilities often comes with opportunities for commercial growth nearby, she said.

But officials still need to find out more about the finances — both to build a facility and run it long-term.

At the National Sports Center in Blaine, "we're doing the best that we can," Johnson said, adding that when sports facilities were closed during the start of the pandemic, the Sports Center was losing $1 million a month.

The facility received $2.2 million in federal help in 2020 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but Johnson said he's uncertain whether more aid is coming to offset 2021 losses.

The Sports Center is now holding about 60-70% of the competitions it did previously, but its biggest event — the Target USA Cup in July — will be half as large as usual, with no international teams.

The center has survived by using reserve funds and cutting costs during the pandemic, Johnson said.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781