AUBURN — The city moved closer to a vote on a proposed dual-rink ice arena Friday with youth hockey leaders trying to rally support and city councilors promising to go over the financial plans.
City councilors are scheduled to vote Monday on developer George Schott's proposal to build the arena on land he owns behind Shaw's Supermarket and the Auburn Mall on Turner Street.
"We have a short window of opportunity here to merge and convert all of these individual blocks of support into a collaborative physical fitness, youth athletic, job-creating and economic development initiative," Thom Labrie, director the Lewiston-Auburn Bolts youth hockey player development program, said.
Labrie hosted a news conference at noon Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn to remind youth hockey fans and their families to support the proposed rink.
"It's one thing that's been missing in this effort all along, the support from the youth hockey," Labrie said. "George Schott has stepped up and done his share; the city has done wonderful work. Now it's the youth hockey parents' and grandparents' turn to stand up."
Labrie's conference was supposed to include Mayor Jonathan LaBonte and City Councilor Leroy Walker, but LaBonte said Friday morning he would not attend. Walker attended the conference but did not speak.
LaBonte said he disagreed with a comment Labrie made Thursday that city councilors were getting weak-kneed and backing off from earlier support of the arena.
"What I have observed is not councilors being weak in the knee, but doing their due diligence," LaBonte said Friday.
According to the deal outlined so far, Schott would borrow the $8.5 million to build the facility using private financing, leasing it back to the city each year for 30 years, according to an outline agreement approved in July. The city would have the option of buying the property outright during that time.
According to financial forecasts, the ice arena would bring in $1.35 million its first full year. Costs, including lease payments to Schott, would come in about $1.33 million that first year, leaving a $19,000 surplus. Costs include lease payments to Schott and $140,000 in property taxes to the city each year.
LaBonte said he's concerned about the financial viability of the youth hockey programs.
"They would, in effect, be the anchor tenants for this," LaBonte said. "The success of this facility would depend upon them."
Councilor Joshua Shea agreed and said he is trying to meet with youth hockey representatives this weekend to review their financial histories. As of Friday afternoon, Shea said he had met with Dan D'Auteuil, treasurer for Maine Gladiators, the travel program for the Lewiston-Auburn youth hockey program.
"They show me financial solvency that I can get behind," Shea said. "Can I say that yet for all the other potential tenants? No, because I have not looked at their numbers closely."
Labrie said Friday he did not mean to insult LaBonte or the City Council but was trying to get youth hockey supporters to stand up and support the proposal. He urged them to send emails to councilors this weekend and to fill the City Council chambers in Auburn Hall on Monday night.
He was joined by Denis Berube and Andy Guerin, co-directors of the Lewiston-Auburn youth hockey program.
"Our organization is committed to becoming a proactive partner, working to create more ice activities in the form of middle school hockey, youth clinics and tournaments," Berube said. "For everyone in local hockey this is a very exciting opportunity that we cannot lose out on."
Guerin said recruitment for the local hockey program has been larger this year than in years past.
"But the biggest concern that parents had was the uncertainty of ice," Guerin said. "They were concerned they'd have to travel 30, 40, 50 miles to attend practices and games. With the dual sheets, we'd be able to host all the practices and games here."
Plans call for the proposed rink to have seats for 800 spectators in one rink, 200 in a second rink, 300 in a shared mezzanine and standing room for hundreds more.
The new arena would also feature 14 locker rooms for teams, a pro shop and second-floor warm spectator area with a concessions stand.