AUBURN — Chris Washburn is as excited about Auburn's plan to build a dual-rink ice arena as anybody in the Twin Cities.
"This will be the first double sheet of ice that we have in Maine, which would be just tremendous," Washburn, president of the Hallowell-based Maine Amateur Hockey Association, said. "It's a great opportunity. When you have a new rink coming in, it shows a tremendous amount of support for our sport and that's great PR. It's going to get many more young people and their families enjoying the sport."
Jim Cain, owner of Firland Management and the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, is not so sure.
"I did the research after I bought the Colisee," Cain said. "I had an option to work with (Lewiston) and add another ice surface, and there wasn't sufficient demand then. I can't say there is now, but there wasn't then."
The demand for ice time is one of the big questions still facing Auburn's proposed ice arena. That demand, as well as other financial forecasts for the arena, are coming into sharper focus now.
City Manager Clinton Deschene said he plans to give councilors an updated financial pro forma at the end of their meeting Monday night. Councilors have scheduled an executive session at the end of that meeting, and Deschene said he expects to make that financial forecast public after the executive session.
Monday's regular City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Auburn Hall.
A new ice arena in the center of the state promises good things for youth hockey in Maine, according to Washburn.
"I really see it as a growth opportunity," Washburn said. "With the exposure this is going to get, recruitment goes up. It's not unreasonable that the organizations will pick up 75 to 100 kids next year."
Plans call for the ice arena being self-supporting, needing no financial help from the city to remain solvent. Councilors agreed to support the lease at their Sept. 17 meeting, but left themselves an out on Oct. 1. If the updated financial forecast looks bad to councilors Monday night, they can back out of the deal.
Deschene's original forecast, released on Aug. 9, forecast a $1.3 million profit/loss range: The facility could end up making a $350,000 profit in the best-case scenario, or losing $938,000 under the worst case. Losses would be covered by the city's general fund.
That range is narrowing now, after the City Council's support of the lease. He'll say how narrow Monday night.
"Now that I have a firm lease in hand, I'm not guessing any more," Deschene said. "They are still projections, but they are updated and much more realistic. I can say much more definitively what I think is going to happen."
Deschene said one thing that's become more clear is the support from local hockey leagues and teams. So far, officials for Edward Little High School, Poland Regional High School, Gray-New Gloucester High School and Leavitt Area High School in Turner have all committed to buying all of their ice time in the 2013-14 season at the planned Auburn arena.
So have the Lewiston-AuburnYouth Hockey Twin Cities Titans and Gladiators programs, LA Seniors, Rousseau's hockey, the summer Power Play Tournament, the Boston Cremes adult hockey group and the LA Edge women's hockey league.
He waiting to talk to six more hockey organizations that have expressed interest in the arena.
So far, Deschene said he's accounted for about 1,600 hours of confirmed ice rentals at $225 per hour. The Aug. 9 financial forecasts call for a minimum of 1,748 hours rented. The best-case forecast calls for renting 4,972 hours at the $225 per hour rate and another 3,220 hours at a discounted $175 per hour off-peak rate.
Robert Berube, president of Poland-based Maine Hockey Development, said he expects to schedule seven tournaments in Maine in 2014, each spread over three-day weekends. That would amount to more than 500 games.
"My objective is to bring 60 percent of those games in Auburn," he said. "That will, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, fill both sheets of ice from 8 in the morning to 8 at night."
Berube said he currently schedules off-season tournaments at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham and the Portland Ice Arena, using smaller rinks such as Auburn's Ingersoll Arena as overflow.
"These are 60 percent out-of-state teams, from New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Canadians," he said.
Washburn said he thinks the Auburn rink would also get a boost from tournament revenues.
"It would be nice to bring teams up here," he said. "They likely are coming up here anyway, driving past. It would be good to get them to stop."
Washburn's association is the bridge between the national group USA Hockey and 22 local hockey organizations such as Lewiston-Auburn's Twin City Titans and the Colisee- and Biddeford-based Portland Junior Pirates organization.
Currently, the Maine organization sends teams north to participate in tournaments in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Canada and to tournaments in Vermont, New York State and Massachusetts.
"Massachusetts has a huge number of arenas, including many multiple-rink facilities," he said.
One of the largest is Marlborough's New England Sports Center, which has six rinks.
"That's where the big national tournaments go," he said. "Even with a double sheet, we wouldn't qualify for one of the larger national tournaments. But there are smaller nationals. A double sheet, one that's in close proximity to a couple of other rinks, could give Maine the opportunity to host a national tournament. And that gives us more exposure, and that opens up some new opportunities."
Cain said he doesn't think tournaments help all that much.
"They can be largely overstated in terms of profitability," Cain said. "Unless you have more than 24 teams, the likelihood of it being more profitable than just renting the ice is probably 50/50."