Arena: Legacy of hockey, figure skating and even dog shows

What do hockey, figure skating and dog shows have in common? In Albert Lea, they’re all based at the City Arena, 701 Lake Chapeau Drive. For almost 50 years, the arena has supported a variety of recreation, proof of Albert Lea’s commitment to recreation for all generations.

The city converted the former Lea College Field House to an ice arena in the mid-1970s. It opened in 1976 with a ribbon-cutting by then Mayor Paul Larimore and School District 241 representatives. The first hockey players on the ice represented two Park League Squirt teams. Members of the Albert Lea Figure Skating Club performed to the “Nutcracker Suite.”

Twenty-two years later, hockey advocates and the city worked together to add the second sheet of ice. Thanks to diligent maintenance, its original refrigeration system is still running after 26 years. Often called the back ice, it’s officially named the Colstrup Rink after Carol Colstrup, one of the founders of the figure skating club and a long-time coach. The front ice is named the Nystrom Rink after Roy Nystrom, a long-time coach of the Albert Lea High School boys’ hockey team.

Over the decades, the arena has supported many levels of hockey from mites up to college plus numerous other activities. The arena is home to the Albert Lea High School hockey teams, Albert Lea Figure Skating Club, Freeborn County Kennel Club and Waldorf University hockey teams from Forest City, Iowa.

With 49,000 visitors a year, 10-12 hockey tournaments a season, an annual dog show and a yearly figure skating show, the arena is the city’s most-used facility.

In recent years, the city has replaced the roof on the flat portion of the building and some of the interior flooring. It also installed bleachers with handicap accessibility.

Albert Lea voters will decide on April 9 whether to continue the legacy of recreation support with funding for a new refrigeration system that can serve both rinks, a new floor for the practice rink, frost removal below that floor and fixing the drainage. The proposal also calls for expanding the lobby and implementing several projects to save on energy.

Altogether, the $9.8 million proposal would improve the City Arena, Marion Ross Theater, Aquatic Center and Splash Pad.

City Arena construction mid-1970s
City Arena construction mid-1970s
First hockey action at the City Arena, Park League Squirts, 1976