STEVE SCOTT, Pioneer Press
June 21, 2005

Months of fretting over the future of the John Rose Minnesota Oval turned to optimism Monday as the city of Roseville -- buoyed by a $1 million gift -- agreed to repair the rink's refrigeration system in hopes of restoring a full ice season this winter.

"This was just a great, great day," said Nancy Nelson, member of a city-appointed Oval task force. "Now, there's a big task ahead of us."The Oval's future received a huge boost Monday afternoon when the Guidant Foundation made official its pledge of $1 million to the speed skating, bandy and hockey rink. The worldwide heart device manufacturer, based in Indianapolis but with operations in Arden Hills, gave $500,000 for immediate repairs.

"All of us get to enjoy this great facility while we train world-class athletes to help Minnesota make its imprint on the world," said Guidant Foundation Director Fred McCoy at a news conference that was mostly a civic celebration.

Marilyn Rose Sanft, widow of the former state representative for whom the Oval was named when it was built 12 years ago, was among those attending. "The last time I spoke here was December 1993, and it was 10 degrees above zero," she said. "I'm still shivering ... John would be so pleased at this tremendous effort to save the Oval."

Guidant pledged another $500,000 as a challenge grant to match money raised by the Friends of the Oval Foundation. That money would be used to establish an endowment for the Oval's long-term upkeep.

Hours after Guidant's announcement, the City Council authorized a $257,000 repair by Cool Air Mechanical of St. Paul to begin repairing the Oval's chiller system. Leaks discovered last year prevented artificial ice on the 110,000-square-foot track. When fully operational, the track can make ice in air temperatures up to 50 degrees.

That has allowed the Oval to host several regional, national and international competitions and become an Olympic training site on par with tracks in West Allis, Wis., Lake Placid, N.Y., and Salt Lake City.

The council also established a permanent advisory group for the Oval. The council, however, delayed action on a detailed, long-range plan to make the ice facility solvent. Those recommendations came from an 18-member task force, which set out to eliminate the Oval's annual $100,000 deficit.

Before Guidant's contribution was revealed last week, the temporary task force of citizens, city staff and Oval users worked for months to develop a long-range business plan.

"You saw this city do the best when it was challenged," Council Member Dean Maschka said. "Incredible people served on this task force. They took a real bad situation and turned it into a great opportunity."

The council declined to act on the report Monday in part because Council Member Greg Schroeder said the plan needs an update to reflect Guidant's gift and because Council Member Tom Kough requested more time to read the report.

Among the recommendations now expected to come before the council at a future meeting:

-- Increasing fees for skating, bandy and hockey groups using the Oval.
-- Raising public skating fees by $1 to $5.
-- Conducting better marketing of the Oval.
-- Operating more efficiently with knowledge gained during last winter's natural-ice season.
-- Creating an annual season-opening event.
-- Upgrading the adjacent banquet and meeting facilities to encourage more event rentals.

Steve Scott may be reached at or 651-228-5526.

2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.