MANKATO — The sparkle panels on the new event center are gone (although they may come back), but brick and stone are being added. The hockey teams are getting what they want, but they will have to pay for the final $750,000 in items on their wish list over the next decade.

And with those details completed, final city approval was granted Monday night for the civic center renovation and expansion sought by community leaders for nearly a decade. Construction is beginning this month.

The Mankato City Council unanimously approved the final design of the new event center/auditorium that will be constructed between the existing civic center and Second Street. The council, also without opposition, OKed a contract for the $27.4 million in work that encompasses the event center construction and renovations to the existing civic center aimed at making a permanent home for the Minnesota State University men's and women's hockey teams.

"We have a plan both on the event center and the hockey center that everyone is happy with," said Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges before the meeting. "... It does call on the university to throw a little bit more money into their lease that will finance some of the extra touches on the hockey center."

Mortenson Construction, barring unforeseen complications, will complete construction for $27,443,876 under the contract the council authorized Monday night. The total cost is substantially higher because demolition of the old U.S. Bank building, where the event center will be located, and site preparation costs were financed separately.

The construction budget also doesn't include nearly $3 million in design and testing costs and the $2 million spent to acquire the U.S. Bank property. Including some work completed in recent years to upgrade the civic center seating and ice sheet, the grand total for the civic center upgrades and expansion totals nearly $40 million.

Even so, a few items will have to wait. The budget doesn't include the four-sided scoreboard that hangs above center ice at many hockey arenas, something the current arena lacks. And there was no money for more arena restrooms or other concourse improvements.

Still, the arena will create a place for MSU hockey teams to call home. The new locker rooms, coaches offices, meeting rooms, dining rooms and training center will allow the teams to abandon All Seasons Arena, where both teams are currently based. 

"It has been designed with all the elements that Minnesota State desires," Hentges told the council.

Those improvements are expected to be substantially completed by the start of the 2015-16 hockey season. MSU, however, will have to hold its practices at All Seasons for one final season until the event center is finished in the summer of 2016. That's because, until the event center is available to handle smaller conventions, exhibits and events, such as dart and pool tournaments, will still keep the main arena occupied.

MSU will also be paying higher lease costs for the civic center to cover the final $750,000 in furnishings and added touches for the hockey center, according to Hentges. The terms haven't been finalized, but the new lease will be in the same range as the $500,000 to $550,000 MSU currently pays for leasing the civic center for men's games and for leasing practice time and office space at All Seasons, he said.

"We're there in principle," Hentges said of the final lease agreement.

The look of the event center, which will have retractable seating and acoustics for concerts but will have the flexibility to also be opened up for convention use, has changed a bit from the last design seen by the council. Gone are the sparkle panels — large rectangles of outdoor LED lighting that would have changed colors based on the events being hosted. Those have been dropped as a cost saving measure, even while more brick and stone has been added to better connect the facility's appearance to nearby downtown buildings.

"There seems to be a strong consensus that brick was important," Hentges said.

The illuminated panels are also important to the event center's appearance, said architect Bryan Paulsen of ISG Architecture and Engineering.

"In our opinion, those are vital to the success of the building," Paulsen said, adding that the panels will return if a way can be found to fit them in the budget. "... It's something we feel strongly about and are going to continue to pursue."

Councilman Jason Mattick was pleased with the design changes, particularly more stone and other pattern changes to dress up the east side of the event center — not just the main entrance on Hickory Street.

"I'm very opposed to building a giant brick wall on Second Street," Mattick said, applauding the improvements.

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