Auburn council disappointed by rink finances, continue support

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AUBURN — Mayor Jonathan LaBonte reiterated his support for the city’s dual-rink ice arena Monday night, despite some disappointing financial forecasts.

“I’m still supportive of this facility, but I think we have some digging to do to grow out of that first year,” LaBonte said during Monday night’s City Council workshop meeting. “Perhaps we were not hitting the ground running the way we meant to.”

Tim Holden, director of the city’s Norway Savings Bank Arena, said canceled tournaments, smaller youth hockey rental revenues and disappointing advertising revenues were to blame. The arena has not been fully open for a year and Holden has only been on the job since June.

“We are new here, and we are learning the gaps in the schedule and who uses what when,” Holden said. “We are learning what we can fill in.”

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Overall, Holden said it will take time to make the arena a success. He called for a balanced schedule at the rink, one that combines club and high school hockey, public skating and special tournaments.

“We need to be focusing on the community with steady, guaranteed times for events,” Holden said. “I think it helps with the community, as far as what they are doing with work and when they can come in and skate. The Learn to Skate program will have a consistent time.”

The arena is located just off of Turner Street near the Auburn Mall and overlooks the Shaw’s Supermarket and Center Street.

It’s part of a city enterprise fund and is meant to be self-supporting, paying for its operations with its own advertising and ice rental revenues.

The three biggest income generators for the rink are youth program rentals, tournaments and advertising. The rink’s fiscal year 2014-15 budget called for the youth hockey program rentals to bring in about $387,000. Instead, it’s looking to bring in $225,000. Rental by hockey tournaments were budgeted to bring in $173,000, but are bringing in $45,000.

And advertising is looking to generate $140,000 this fiscal year, short of the $237,000 budget forecast.

Holden said those budgeted amounts are attainable — but not right away.

“I think anything is attainable,” Holden said. “I don’t want to say it’s not. The youth hockey is a large number, and they’ll have to utilize a lot of spring and summer ice. With that being said, we can close that substantially. We are working on some spring/summer leagues to get more youth through the door. Will it meet that number? Not right away.”

Holden said he is already scheduling ice rentals for late summer and fall 2015 and working to bring new tournaments to the arena. He said the current plan is to remove the ice on the larger rink during the hottest part of the summer.

“We want to compare the energy savings this year to last year and see how much savings there really are,” Holden said. “Then we can see what we can bring in for events to use that floor space.”

Some councilors said they were frustrated by the news. Tizz Crowley said she wanted to see a very specific plan from city managers to describe precisely how the rink will be operated.

“We go back to the premise that this is a good economic development tool,” Crowley said. “We can’t lose sight of one thing — we have it now, and we have to make it successful. I don’t see anything in here expect long term ‘we can do this or we can do that.'”

Councilor Leroy Walker said rink managers could have done a better job renting the ice, bringing tournaments and generally promoting the arena.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t hit the road running when we started this,” Walker said. “I understand there were a lot of things you had to worry about, but that bothered me a lot.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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