Auburn councilors want closer watch on ice arena operations

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AUBURN — City councilors see a lot of opportunity in the city’s new dual-rink ice arena, but they want more regular information and reports about its operations.

Councilors reviewed a proposed 2014-15 budget for the Norway Savings Bank Arena during Thursday night’s workshop, as well as a mission statement, set of goals, objectives and performance measurements the operation hopes to meet.

Councilors said they were excited about the arena and its potential impact on the community, but felt they need to keep a close eye on it.

“We need to know where we are really going, because the excitement around this and the benefit is a big part,” Councilor Tizz Crowley said. “Otherwise, we are just back where we started, renting ice and hoping we break even. But that’s not what we have out there. We have a core place that demonstrates why people need to come to Auburn.”

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The first rink and the arena’s locker rooms opened in November. The second surface and the second floor mezzanine — with warm areas for spectators, offices and concessions — opened in February.

The arena is off Turner Street near the Auburn Mall, overlooking Shaw’s Supermarket and Center Street. The facility includes a 380-space parking lot.

It was built to the city’s specifications by developer George Schott, who is renting it to the city. It’s part of a city enterprise fund and is meant to be self-supporting, paying for its operations with its advertising and ice rental revenues.

Arena Manager Josh Macdonald’s 2014-15 budget calls for $1.22 million in revenues and $1.21 million in costs, showing a $13,435 profit.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte called for increasing a line item for annual maintenance on the facility, realizing that could erase the slim profit margin.

“I want to make sure that if the real budget requires us to put $75,000 in a reserve fund for future maintenance, let’s do that,” LaBonte said. “I’d rather we bust our butts to work on the revenue side.”

LaBonte also urged staff to work with youth hockey leagues to establish long-term, year-to-year contracts with the arena. Those local leagues are responsible for most of the rented ice time.

But councilors were clear they wanted regular reports and updates on the rink’s operations and ice rentals.

“We have a lot riding on this arena and that ice time is critical,” Mary LaFontaine said.

Councilor Leroy Walker, a longtime supporter of the rink, agreed.

“I think you’ve all been working unbelievable hours and you have accomplished so much in so little time,” Walker said. “The thing I think has been missing is reports, reports, reports. We don’t want to micromanage anybody but we’d liked to see from you the positive things that are happening.”

Thursday’s meeting was a specially scheduled meeting to make up for items missed when Tuesday’s meeting was postponed by snow. That Tuesday meeting itself rescheduled from Monday because of the President’s Day holiday.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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