East Grand Forks officials say survey reaffirms what they suspected: Youth ice sports are lucrative for city
Results from an ice sports economic contribution survey distributed throughout the 2021-2022 season found that an estimated 9,379 East Grand Forks visitors directly spent nearly $1.7 million in the city when they went there for youth hockey and figure skating events.
EAST GRAND FORKS – An estimated 9,379 East Grand Forks visitors directly spent nearly $1.7 million in the city when they went there for youth hockey and figure skating events during the 2021-2022 season, according to a survey conducted by the city's parks and recreation department and University of Minnesota Extension.
The findings meet the expectations of those in the Parks and Recreation Department, including department Superintendent Reid Huttunen.
“The numbers that we received, I think, reinforce what we've always used as a parameter for what we advertise or tell our City Council that our economic contribution is,” Huttunen said.
Youth ice sports — including hockey and figure skating — held in East Grand Forks facilities have some of the biggest economic contributions in the city. The survey is the first conducted that Huttunen is aware of, and it takes a deep dive into the numbers of guests and their impact.
A total of 140 responses were received as the survey was distributed to attendees of youth hockey and figure skating events at the Civic Center, VFW and Blue Line arenas. Attendees were asked a variety of questions, including what brought them to the community. It also gauged the likelihood of returning to the community.
Of those who responded about their likelihood of coming back, most answered that they would return for future youth ice sports events.
Huttunen said the number of youth ice sporting events held in the city in the 2021-2022 season was similar to previous years, with the exception of the state hockey tournament, which isn’t held in East Grand Forks every year.
Youth ice sports event visitors generated around $2.1 million of economic activity in Polk County. Additional survey results found that the most direct spending was on lodging, restaurants, transportation and shopping — all four raking in around $1.4 million.
The survey gives city leaders a better understanding of the economic impact youth ice sporting events have on the city. It also, according to Huttunen, reinforces the need for upgrades to several of the city’s facilities, including the Civic Center, the baseball field at Itts Williams Park adjacent to the Civic Center, and the VFW Memorial Arena.
“We have an opportunity to further use our facilities for more events on a year-round basis," Huttunen said. "That would just further drive that economic contribution to the community."
At present, Huttunen said the facilities are mainly used on a seasonal basis with hockey and figure skating being the biggest economic drivers.
“When we talk about the $2.1 million in economic contribution through the course of the winter, we're just talking about basically two activities. It's hockey and figure skating in these buildings that are only seasonal at the moment,” he said. “That's what a lot of our discussion has been in reinforcing the need for improvements at the facilities is to really further them to become more year-round, all-purpose facilities that can serve a greater need than just ice sports.”
Baseball tournaments are held throughout the summer months, but Huttunen said they don’t bring in the number of overnight visitors that hockey and figure skating do.
Upgrades to the facilities have been in the talks on a City Council level since around 2018. Some improvements include ensuring the facilities are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act; upgrades to mechanical, electrical and plumbing; fixing the ice rink systems at the VFW Memorial Arena; and improving the field structure at Itts Williams Park.
A 20-year, 1.25% citywide sales tax that would have generated $21.5 million for the facility upgrades is currently on hold as it didn’t receive a decision from the Minnesota Legislature before the session came to an end earlier this year.
City Administrator David Murphy said council members and city leaders are interested in exploring how to utilize the facilities, and particularly the Civic Center, for events other than hockey and figure skating.
For example, the arena could be utilized for concerts, which would be an economic contribution for the city during the summer months.
Some of the well-known events held in East Grand Forks throughout the summer include various marathons, the Cats Incredible Catfishing Tournament, the Happy Harry’s Rockin’ Up North Fest and the annual Craft Beer Show/Tasting Event, which this year will host a concert.
While those events bring in visitors and have an economic impact as well, both Huttunen and Murphy agree that city-sponsored events centered around youth hockey and figure skating have some of the biggest economic contributions in the city.
“I think that really reinforces that there's an opportunity to continue to move that forward with more and more opportunities, more events,” Huttunen said.