Carl Miller has a history of getting things done.
In his career as an athletic director and academic administrator, seemingly every institution he worked for erected new or improved buildings for its students’ use.
Now, Miller and his nonprofit group have their eyes set on a lot on the North Side of La Crosse, vying to build an ice complex that would house two hockey rinks and a curling rink.
The 10-acre site, near the intersection of St. Andrew and George streets and once the site of Trane Plant 6, is owned by Marvin Wanders and his business partner Paul Borsheim. The pair had intended to put an $18 million commercial development there but Wanders said those plans were tabled for the past six months waiting for Miller’s group to line up financing for a sale.
Miller, a La Crosse native and a hockey fanatic, said his motivation was simple for wanting to build the complex.
“A facility is the only way you’re going to grow hockey and figure skating in the area,” Miller said. “We’ve needed a facility of this magnitude for 30 years, quite honestly. That’s what’s held hockey back at times.”
Miller’s group’s proposal to buy the lot is in the hands of attorneys, and the design of the facility is still in planning stages, so a cost estimate is not available. However, all of the money will be private, Miller said.
“We want (the complex) to be committed to ice sports,” said Miller, who earned his doctorate in educational administration from North Texas in 1969. “Hockey, curling, figure skating, hockey schools and camps.”
The facility will seat 6,000 spectators in the larger rink and 1,800 in the smaller. Miller said it will be a two-and-a-half year process before the complex opens its doors, but he’s already signed a contract with a La Crosse-based figure skating club and has spoken with athletic administrators at Aquinas, Central, and Logan high schools about their hockey programs using the facility.
There are a number of youth hockey associations in La Crosse, such as River City Youth Hockey and the La Crosse Flames, that require ice time for games and practices. Right now, that time is sparse as the rink at Green Island is split between the Coulee Region Chill, Central/Logan and other organizations. The complex will be able to always have at least one sheet of ice open all year, Miller said.
“We want to be committed to having the high schools playing there,” he said.
Western Wisconsin historically hasn’t been a youth hockey hub, but Miller believes that a complex like the one his group has planned could change that.
Miller’s track record suggests this project has the leadership it would need to reach fruition. While athletic director at the University of South Dakota, Miller oversaw the building of the DakotaDome, a facility that houses Coyote football, basketball, track and field, swimming and diving, and other sports for decades. At Winona State University, he spearheaded creation of the Integrated Wellness Center, and at University of the Pacific he led the construction of the Sports Medicine Center and Human Performance Lab. Locally, he was in charge of restoring the Hixton House in downtown La Crosse.