VIRGINIA — In less than a year, the hockey players from across the region will be taking to the ice in the sparkling, new Miners Event and Convention Center in Virginia.
If the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer an issue, the sound of a wrist shot hitting the goal pipe or the horn blaring for a goal scored will fill the main hockey arena, which is one of two ice sheets in the facility.
As of Tuesday, the $38 million project — being built just north of the current facility — was ahead of schedule and on target for its planned September 2021 opening.
“We now have all of our precast walls in place (as of Monday) and are working to get the building completely enclosed,’’ Virginia Park and Recreation Director Brian Silber said.
With that task accomplished, only one of two large cranes remains at the site. Ironworkers used the crane to finish installing iron on the south side of the building and are now installing all the joists for the main arena.
“With all of the iron in place, we can get all of our other exterior stud walls put up and in place,’’ Silber said.
In addition, the conference center is now enclosed, which means heat can be pumped into that area to melt the frost in the ground. Once that is done, plumbing, electric and all of the underground utilities can be put in before the slab is poured. The interior walls can be put up after that.
Particularly exciting for Silber is the first slab pour in the locker room area, which was scheduled to be done last week or early this week. The slab pour in that area (between the arenas) is at least two months ahead of schedule.
“We were not scheduled to do the first floor pour until early March. Because of the excellent job by the construction management team and contractors, we’ve been able to get ahead in this area’’ of the facility, which will have 117,000 square feet of programmable space.
In the next few weeks, Silber said all of the steel work will be finished and the roofers will be getting the roof done on both arenas. Heat can then be pumped into both arenas so work can start on the “miles and miles of piping that go into ice arenas.’’ There will be about 10 miles of pipe per arena floor, he added.
Speaking of the ice sheets, the MECC will be going to an ammonia-based system to freeze the ice because it is more cost effective and environmentally friendly, according to Silber. Also, one ice plant will be able to handle both arenas.
A big bonus is that the secondary arena will be able to provide year-round ice. That will allow for summer ice for figure skating and hockey camps and tournaments.
“That will have a big impact on recreational opportunities on the Iron Range, Silber said. For example, figure skaters won’t have to travel to Duluth or elsewhere to find ice time, he added.
The new building and what it will bring to the area has been greeted well by the public.
“Speaking with both current and past hockey players in the area, they are excited that Virginia is moving forward with a state-of-the-art arena’’ that has a seating capacity of 2,000 (both sitting and standing), he said, because it has been much needed in the area for a long time.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the exterior look of the building.’’ In the interior design, the area’s heritage is being honored, while the exterior will feature logging and mining themes, Silber said.
The facility can’t come soon enough, according to Silber because things at the building opened 62 years ago continue to break down. The Miners Memorial Building has “great bone structure,’’ he said, but “every internal organ is failing.’’
Funding for the major project came from state bonding and sales tax money.
Virginia residents approved a 1% sales tax in the fall of 2018 for the renovation, reconstruction, expansion and improvement of the Miners Memorial Complex. The Minnesota Legislature then approved imposing the sales tax in May 2019, and it went into effect last January.
The plan is to construct the MECC before demolishing the existing Miners complex so there will be minimal disruption to the Parks and Recreation Department’s programming. The Ewens Field football stadium was demolished last spring to make way for the MECC. The new facility is being built in what was the south end zone of the football field.
The facility has also built in space for numerous locker rooms. Unfinished locker room space is also available for a junior hockey team, which could possibly locate at the MECC in the future.
“We have some interest from several junior hockey teams,’’ Silber said, but nothing has progressed very far. The locker rooms on the east side of the building could be built out when needed.
Silber sounded confident about the junior hockey possibilities.
“The Quad Cities is an ideal location for a junior hockey franchise’’ because of the passion the area has for hockey.
The facility is about far more than hockey.
The main arena will have the ability to host concerts, trade shows, business conferences and other recreational opportunities that have been lacking on the Iron Range, according to Silber. On the convention and conference center side, the ballroom seats 500 for a dinner and up to 750 in auditorium seating arrangements, plus there are 10 breakout rooms.
“We will be the first venue here on the Iron Range that will be able to seat 500 for a wedding year-round,’’ Silber told the Mesabi Tribune. The ballroom has 6,500 square feet of reception space.
The MECC will also have wedding amenities, like dance floors and stages, and will work with “local caterers to provide excellent menu options for all of our guests.’’
Other features of the MECC include community workout spaces and fitness rooms (a membership-driven area) and a walking trail around the arena on the second floor.
The need for the facility has already been shown with a couple of events booked for 2022.
Events new to the area will also be booked, Silber expects. That includes a wedding and bridal show that will be coming to the arena, along with the possibility for national-named concerts.
For further information on booking the facility, go to meccmn.com. MECC MN can also be found on Facebook and Instagram. Those interested can also call Virginia Parks and Recreation at (218) 748-7506 about booking. The phone system has the option of being sent to the MECC booking line.
Leading up to the September completion date, Park and Recreation officials will be working on the grand opening celebration and also on naming rights.
“We’ve had some interest’’ in sponsorships for certain building amenities, said Silber, who could not name any potential sponsors at this time. “Those are things we would be able to have otherwise.’’
Potential sponsors can contact Silber at (218) 748-7506.