Red Baron parking project OK’d

Project to add 106 parking spaces to facility, plus outdoor ice rink

Photo by Deb Gau The current parking lot at the Red Baron Arena and Expo isn’t big enough to handle large events, Marshall city staff said Tuesday. The Marshall City Council approved a proposal to build more parking on the south end of the building.

MARSHALL — From sporting events to home shows, the Red Baron Arena and Expo has seen some big crowds come in the doors. But the facility’s parking lot hasn’t been as well equipped to handle those crowds, Marshall city staff said.

“It’s no secret, in this room or in the community, the challenges we’ve had with parking for large events,” said Marshall Community Services Director Scott VanDerMillen, addressing Marshall City Council members.

A plan approved by the council on Tuesday hopes to help address the problem by building an additional 106 parking spots in a new lot on the south side of the arena and expo. In addition, the Marshall Amateur Hockey Association said it wanted to partner with the city to build an outdoor skating rink at the arena and expo.

The issues with parking at the arena and expo have been well known, and the problem only gets worse if there are events going on at both the arena and the softball complex nearby, VanDerMillen said. On top of that, the city will be re-striping the arena parking lot, which will result in the loss of about 27 parking spaces, he said.

But the city was proposing to build a new parking lot, with 106 parking spaces, on the south side of the arena and expo building. The new lot would be located where the facility’s current bus parking area is now. VanDerMillen said the bus parking area is seldom actually used by buses — drivers often prefer to park at the softball complex, away from traffic.

City staff and administrators also consulted with the hockey association and Marshall Public Schools in thinking of places to potentially expand the arena’s parking, VanDerMillen said. Consensus was that the south end of the facility was a better fit.

“It would be the first thing you would see there on your left as you’re going past the softball diamonds,” he said. The visibility would be helpful for people visiting Marshall for an event at the arena, and location would be closest to both the arena and overflow parking at the softball complex.

Building the additional parking would bring the total available spaces at the arena and expo to around 250 or 260, VanDerMillen said. City staff said the project would cost $450,000, and construction could be complete by mid to late October.

Josh Johnson, president of MAHA, said the hockey association also wanted to partner with the city to build an outdoor ice rink as part of the project excavation.

“We were looking for approval from the city to go ahead and start with those plans,” Johnson said. “We do have some funding available currently,” he said, but the association would also seek corporate sponsorships as well.

Johnson said MAHA has lost its outdoor rink near Marshall Middle School because the association donated the rink’s boards to the city of Ghent.

“It was more of an outreach for MAHA, to allow them to have outdoor ice,” Johnson said.

“This would be community, city ice,” Johnson said of the proposed new rink in Marshall. However, MAHA would help maintain it. The rink could be reserved through the Red Baron arena, but it would be open to the public when not booked. Johnson said the association had also made a verbal commitment to the city that MAHA would pay rent if the association were to use the outdoor rink for practices.

Council members did have some questions about the plan. Council members said they wanted to make sure there was a sidewalk connection going between the parking lot and the softball complex. Council members John DeCramer and Russ Labat also asked if the parking lot could have fewer landscaped traffic islands. Islands in the current parking lot take up space and pose problems for snow removal, Labat said.

Council members voted 3-2 to approve the the parking lot expansion and outdoor rink. Council members Labat and Steven Meister cast the votes against.