AUBURN — An additional $77,000 in rink advertising and a better interest rate were enough to convince city councilors that a dual-sheet ice arena makes financial sense after all.
Councilors reversed course at their meeting Monday night, voting 4-2 to sign a lease with developer George Schott to build the ice arena on land he owns behind Shaw's on Turner Street.
"It's not that the figures have changed a whole lot, but they are more positive and I think we've recognized a greater outpouring of support," said Councilor Robert Hayes. "But I think it's also that the timing is right. Over the last few years, I felt this city has kind of gone into a tailspin. We've lacked some excitement."
But not everybody was sold. Councilor Tizz Crowley said she would prefer having more time to make a decision.
"What is it going to cost us?" Crowley asked. "The operating cost, we've had three, four, five different operating budgets where it's making a profit, or lost substantial money or it's breaking even. So what is it actually going to cost us and how do we pay for it?"
The latest iteration of the pro forma financial forecast show the rink with a slim $622 loss the first year of operation and $29,070 profit the second year.
Councilors first met with developer Schott in a closed-door executive session after their workshop meeting. After that session, Schott said he'd talked to advertisers and hockey organizations willing to commit to hockey time at the planned rink and conveyed those messages to councilors.
Councilors went into a second executive session to discuss Schott's offer among themselves, emerging about 30 minutes later to approve the lease.
Councilors supported the plans for the dual rink arena at their Sept. 17 meeting when financial forecasts showed the arena would be self-sustaining. Updated financial forecasts released at the Oct. 1 meeting showed the rink would lose about $200,000 each year through 2018. Those losses would have to be covered by the city's property tax-supported General Fund. Support from city councilors evaporated and they voted to rescind the Sept. 17 lease.
City Manager Clinton Deschene said the latest pro forma was not more accurate.
"You can look at any budget and make it say whatever you want," he said. "I can give you a budget that shows this losing more money than you want or I can show it making more money. It's a best estimation."
The initial pro forma financial forecast, released on Aug. 9, showed a potential $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 of Auburn's General Fund.
Deschene's Oct. 1 forecast showed a $277,000 loss in 2013 — $1.09 million in revenues and $1.36 million in expenses. Those losses continued through 2017 — $238,506 in 2014, $232,845 in 2015, $226,575 in 2016 and $219,628 in 2017.
The facility showed a $14,176 profit in 2018.
The numbers released Monday included a lower interest rate that reduced costs by $85,000. It also calls for $77,500 in confirmed annual advertising revenues — up from the $32,000 Deschene budgeted last month as well as spending and staffing reductions.
"There is the fundraising capacity, the naming rights," Deschene said. "We can conjecture on a lot of those. Estimates are in there."
Councilor Leroy Walker said he's confident the arena was the right choice.
"We've got a lot to prove to this community," Walker said. "If we work together, we'll do it."