AUBURN — The city’s new dual-rink ice arena needs to do a better job of getting people out on the ice, according to Manager Tim Holden’s memo to City Council.
Holden will meet with the City Council Monday night, part of the 6 p.m. workshop to talk about the arena’s finances, a proposed schedule and the philosophy for programs in the future.
“There are a lot of different programs we can do and a lot of things we can look at,” Holden said. “One of them is a learn-to-skate program.”
The arena is located just off 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 first rink and the arena’s locker rooms opened in November 2013. The second surface and the second-floor mezzanine — with warm areas for spectators, offices and concessions — opened in February.
Holden’s memo to the City Council makes the case for having regular open skating during prime time hours, evenings on Friday and Saturday weekend afternoons. That gets more people interested in skating, more people taking lessons and builds an ongoing clientele.
It’s something the arena does not have now, according to Holden’s financial forecasts. According to his memo, the arena looks to run an annual deficit for the next 10 years, adding up to $939,525 by 2025.
The trick might be to find new revenues to cut that deficit.
“Keep in mind, these are preliminary projections, and they are based on what we do and what happens,” he said.
Auburn’s experiences are not out of line, according to other rink managers.
“They are expensive facilities to run,” said Tracy Willette, director of Parks and Recreation for Bangor. “And one thing you’ll see, it doesn’t seem any two are alike. They all seem to have different ways to operate and make sure they meet revenue.”
Bangor’s Sawyer Arena is expected to run a $36,000 deficit this year — spending $221,000 in operations but bringing in $185,000 in revenues.
Willette said most of those come from ice rentals.
“We just started, last year, doing some advertising on dasher boards and that brings $2,500 to $3,000 per year,” he said. “But most of what we do is from ice rentals.”
Bangor’s Sawyer rink is a much smaller operation, with one sand-floor ice surface that is only operational part of the year. Since the rink has a sand floor, it can’t be used for conventions, meetings or trade shows.
Falmouth’s rink, the Family Ice Center, gets most of its revenue from ice rentals, too.
The Family Ice Center is a nonprofit that ran a $61,000 deficit in the 2013 fiscal year — the most recent publicly available financial data for the operation. According to the group’s annual report, it spent $914,000 but took in $853,000.
Director Josh Brainerd said it’s expensive to keep it cold.
“Just the general upkeep to keep these places going, it adds up,” Brainerd said. “The energy costs, the fuel costs, they are expensive to run for sure.”