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Environmentalists cool, hockey enthusiasts warm to idea of Creve Coeur Park ice complex


CLAYTON • As hockey fights go, this one was as mild as an April morning.

On one side were youth ice hockey players, coaches, parents and recreational league officials.

On the other were environmentalists.

At stake at a packed public hearing Wednesday night in the St. Louis County Council chambers is the future construction of a $48 million indoor/outdoor ice complex on 40 acres at the edge of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.

The hockey lovers want the “St. Louis Ice Center” built.

The environmentalists prefer that it not rise on the home of wildlife that’s a way station for migrating birds.

In addition to hosting local and regional hockey tournaments for men and women, the four-rink facility would serve local figure skaters, speed skaters and curling enthusiasts.

The center would also be the new training facility for the St. Louis Blues.

“There will be nothing like it for 500 miles,” said Patrick Quinn, chair of the St. Louis Legacy Ice Foundation, the nonprofit that is raising money to build and would ultimately oversee operations on the site.

Kat Dockery, the executive director of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, is among the environmentalists cool to the idea of a state-of-the-art ice complex rising on federally designated wetlands.

“We think it can benefit the community,” Dockery said. “We just think it is in the wrong place.”

Convened by the county planning commission, the hearing was mandated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources because of the wetlands designation.

The public comments will be condensed and passed along to the County Council, which quietly signed off on the project in December when it gave County Executive Steve Stenger the authority to negotiate a lease with the Legacy Foundation.

The county would own the land where the facility, with 1,500 parking spaces, would probably be built.

Dockery was irked by the failure of the county to notify environmental organizations.

“[The county] didn’t ask for public input at all,” Dockery told a reporter after her public remarks. “You’d think given Sylvan Springs and the Transportation Museum [two other county park sale projects opposed by the Open Space Council] we would have been the first group they called.”

Nearly 40 people addressed a panel made up of county and economic development officials over the course of the two-hour-plus meeting Wednesday night.

A little over half of the speakers — primarily coaches and parents — advocated for the project to move forward.

Citing the imminent closing of the Hardee’s Ice Complex in Chesterfield, several said the Creve Coeur Park facility was imperative for the region to maintain its standing as a hockey hotbed that last year produced five NHL draft picks.

“We are one or two years away from turning away hockey players,” Craig Brown, a youth coach, predicted.

Lady Blues Coach Tom Oliver told the hearing that the shortage of area rinks had forced his players to play all but three of their 140 games on the road.

Nearly two-thirds of the contests, Oliver said, have been played on Canadian rinks.

“Their parents don’t get to see them play, their friends don’t get to see them play,” said Oliver, adding that the Creve Coeur complex would give area hockey enthusiasts a chance to “show off our city.”

Herb Huebner, vice president of conservation for the local chapter of the Audubon Society, volunteered that the opportunity to showcase St. Louis hockey should not come at the cost of interrupting the Creve Coeur Lake Park ecosystem.

“We very much love the wildness of that park and we want to keep it that way,” said Huebner, concerned that the facility would become the source of “air, noise and light pollution.”

Quinn pledged in his presentation that the Legacy Ice Foundation would replace in another section of the park every tree destroyed in the construction.

“No existing wetlands will be disturbed,” Quinn further promised.

Quinn said groundbreaking on the project could take place in late summer if the state signed off on the plan and permits were secured.

The ice, he added, could be ready for skating as early as next year.

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Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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