Roller derby team questions why Victory arena is not accessible to public

Youth participants of NERDY (now MNJRD) take part in an intramural scrimmage ahead of a Minnesota Rollergirls bout in March 2016.  Photos courtesy of Brian Dunnette, MNJRD

Youth participants of NERDY (now MNJRD) take part in an intramural scrimmage ahead of a Minnesota Rollergirls bout in March 2016. Photos courtesy of Brian Dunnette, MNJRD

By Abdi Mohamed Staff Reporter

Members of a local roller derby team are wondering why the unused Victory Memorial Ice Arena (VMIA) is unavailable to them after requesting access to it. Rebekah Dunnette, board member and Vice President of the Minnesota Junior Roller Derby (MJRD), has been in talks with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) who own and operate the facility. Dunnette, whose derby name is ToohotinWA, moved to Minnesota 12 years ago and has been a part of the roller derby community for roughly six of those years.

Although she lives in Northeast Minneapolis, Dunnette has worked at North Memorial Hospital and has many friends in the North Minneapolis area. For years her group has rented space from to practice at the National Guard Armory in Northeast. A state law limiting the hours of rental time forced Dunnette and her group to search for a new home. Having frequented the Northside area, she discovered VMIA which seemed promising.

“It reminds me of a horror movie,” Dunnette said while describing the empty building when she first viewed it. She reached out to the district to find a compromise to utilize the space. “They’re only using it for storage of lawn equipment. When we initially asked the school board about it they were like, ‘no, no we did a study and it would cost millions of dollars to try to use it again.’”

Dunnette and members of her group met with officials from the school district work out an agreement. According to Dunnette the district gave her a five month lease offer in which they could rent the facility for $13,000 a month. The group made a counter offer $6,000 a month for a year lease but was rejected by the district.

Dunnette’s husband, Brian (Lazy Mofo), serves as the Secretary of the MJRD and provided documents of their correspondence with the school district to North News. The emails confirm the offer made by the district with an additional $20,000 for capital renewal expenses for occupancy and another $1,345 for clean-up for occupancy. Other emails show the district did have an assessment done on the space last summer which was provided by Kyle Thompson of Faithful+Gould, Inc.

The assessment concluded that the rink needed concrete repair on the sidewalk and parking lot of the property, a new air handling unit for heating and cooling, handicap accessibility work and an assessment for asbestos considering the building was constructed in 1974. The documents also provide a “rough order magnitude of cost” to make the rink fit for occupation. Estimates for renovations “will be in the region of $840,204 for conversion to an indoor turf arena, $1,040,204 for conversion to a hardwood sport court arena, and $1,080,924 for return to service as a municipal ice rink.”

In a statement provided to North News, MPS Chief Operating Officer Karen DeVet said: “The future of the ice arena is still under discussion and may factor into an upcoming multiyear capital plan, along with other capital investment needs across the district.” DeVet acknowledged her conversations with Dennutte about renting the facility but affirmed that the district currently has no plans to lease the rink as it needs “significant repair” if it were to reopen. “We proposed pricing last November to a group representing adult and youth roller derby leagues to allow a short term lease. After several meetings with the group, it seemed they didn’t have the funding to enter into a lease at a cost that kept the district whole, including nominal expense to get the facility ready, as is, for the lease,” she said.

MJRD does youth-focused work and believes that the facility could do a lot to help the local community if it were to be reopened. Part of the MJRD’s draw for youth members has been its LGBTQ inclusivity where members are addressed by their preferred pronouns or roller derby names. “We would just like to be able to utilize an empty facility. To promote roller derby and promote the area. There’s this wonderful facility that could help the youth in the area,” Dunnette said.

DeVet says the VMIA may factor into the districts multi-year capital plan, along with other capital building improvements needs in the district. This plan would help shape the district's capital planning for the next several years and how the ice arena factors into the overall athletic facility plan. For now, the ice rink remains used primarily for storage.

Abdi Mohamed