CROOKSTON - From the outside, the Crookston Sports Center looks like an ordinary industrial building.

There's nothing fancy about its exterior, with no extravagant architectural designs except for two painted figures of a hockey player and an ice skater.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

But inside, the venue has transformed into a hotspot for, well, just about anything in the town of about 8,000.

The city-owned and operated arena houses three regulation-size sheets of ice, but hockey isn't the building's only draw. On any given day you can find dance classes, batting cages for baseball and softball, dodgeball matches, curling matches and a walking track, where for $25, a person can walk as much as they want for a year, something City Administrator Shannon Stassen calls "the deal of the century."

"We just want people getting out and using the facility," Stassen said.

Now, the arena is moving into holding concerts. Last summer, the Crookston Sports Center hosted Hairball, a popular hard rock cover band. The Gear Daddies, a popular '80s and early '90s Minnesota rock band, are scheduled to play the arena April 30.

Multi-purpose plans

Originally opened in 2010, the arena cost $15 million to build. From the start, the city hoped the venue would be the one-stop shop for sports and events that it is becoming today.

"The whole idea from the beginning was to be multi-purpose," said Scott Riopelle, the city's parks and recreation director. "We aren't just for winter sports or skating. It's everything you can think of, so we want to bring in anything to keep people busy."

Stassen said the arena doesn't want to compete with the private sector, but wants to have activities that are fairly new to the city of Crookston, such as concerts. The Hairball show drew 1,300, Stassen said, and he's hoping for a similar turnout for the upcoming Gear Daddies show.

The arena is hosting the Peewee Regional Tournaments this weekend, and Stassen said the hotels in town are at capacity. Events not only drive people to the arena, but to other businesses throughout the town.

"We want to do things the other venues in town can't," Stassen said. "Ultimately, a concert or any other things that we bring in are going to benefit our hotels, our restaurants, our gas stations and those types of things. That's what really drives us."

Regional potential

While the venue is heavily utilized in Crookston, Stassen said he's not sure if people in the surrounding communities know how versatile the Crookston Sports Center can be.

"That's where the opportunity lies, I think," Stassen said. "We want to make sure Grand Forks and smaller communities around us, like Red Lake Falls and Fertile, know what this is and how much it has to offer."

For about nine months out of the year, one of the three ice sheets is covered with turf for athletes to practice baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball and lacrosse. When sports aren't using the space, it can be transformed to host children's birthday parties and badminton tournaments.

To continue to draw more people to the venue, Stassen and Riopelle both said they're willing to take some risks, particularly when it comes to concerts to draw more people. Stassen said the arena nearly booked Sawyer Brown, a country band, for a show during Ox Cart Days this summer, but was outbid at the last minute.

"We aren't going to bring in Elton John like the Ralph (Engelstad Arena) did because the price point is too high for us," Riopelle said. "But we can bring in the Gear Daddies and we can bring in Hairball or somebody like that and have a great time."

Riopelle emphasized this was the community's arena, and events and activities are chosen with that in mind. He said he hopes to soon bring in events such as tradeshows to become an even more encompassing venue.

"Everybody thinks, 'Well, you built a hockey arena,'" Riopelle said. "But we aren't just hockey. We're not just figure skating. They're a big part of the puzzle, sure, but we're so much more than that. We handle pretty much everything."