Columbia Arena Set for Conversion to Senior Citizen Apartments
The project, pending financing, would re-use the ice rink's shell to house the elderly.
Where Zambonis once zoomed, motorized wheelchairs might soon meander. Where coaches once counted assists, developers now count assisted-living units.
The Columbia Arena skating rink on University Avenue, vacant since 2005, is poised for a dramatic conversion to senior citizen apartments, pending financing that the developer's representative says could come within the next two weeks.
A somewhat skeptical Fridley City Council cleared the way for the redevelopment last week, approving a zoning variance and special-use permits for the project. Several officials remarked at the meeting that the city has seen many recent redevelopment plans fail to go forward, including a different proposal last year for a new Fridley Medical Center on the same site that would have leveled the arena.
But Terry Rothenbacher of Carlson Professional Services, speaking on behalf of property owner William Fogerty, said he was "very comfortable" with how the project's financing was coming together. Half of the needed financing has been committed, and final bids on the project are coming in.
"It seems like a go," he said. "The intention is to do work inside this winter."
If the project does indeed move forward, it would likely be one of Minnesota's more unusual architectural re-use feats. Even in its unused state, the building would be hard to mistake for anything but an ice arena. Anoka County built Columbia Arena in 1968, with wide flying buttresses supporting a soaring A-frame roof over what was the arena's main ice sheet. A flat-roofed rear addition to the east was built to house the arena's second sheet of ice.
Both buildings are said to be of solid construction. The first part of the project would be to demolish some of the interior, leaving the outer walls intact except where new window openings would be cut into the block.
Together the two structures would be converted to hold 84 housing units: 36 independent-living apartments, 31 assisted-living apartments, 16 apartments for people with memory loss, and one guest apartment. Units would range in size from 700 square feet to 11,000 square feet or more, Rothenbacher said.
The developer committed to providing a path from the facility to nearby Locke Park, and—for now—a row of parking spaces for park visitors to use along the property's southern edge. But the developer wants to reserve the right to build on those spaces and other parts of the generous surface lot that surrounds the arena.
As to whether noise from trucks and other traffic associated with the city's nearby public works garage and fire-training facility would disturb residents of the ice-arena apartments, Rothernbacher said intended end-user Ebenezer the feeling was quite the opposite.
"Ebenezer sees that as an amenity," he said. "It's an absolute amenity. It gives [residents] something to watch."
Fridley residents interested in seeing senior citizen apartments being built have something to watch already, with the White Pine Senior Living project that is now under construction on Old Central Avenue.
And Trident Development of St. Cloud has proposed a third similar project nearby, at the southwest corner of Mississippi Street and Old Central.
Community Development Director Scott Hickok said after the meeting that the senior-apartment sector seems to be booming in Fridley because of perceived pent-up demand.
"We have been described as the hole in the doughnut for senior housing," he said.
The Columbia Arena project is something special, however.
Hickok said the dramatic shell will allow the senior-living redevelopment to create stunning common spaces that would be unaffordable in new construction.