Wednesday evening’s Treadwell Ice Arena user group meeting at the Mendenhall Library hosted some lively disagreement, as participants presented opposing visions for where a second sheet of ice in Juneau should be placed.
The meeting was a follow-up to a July 18 session at which representatives from different user groups shared their wishlists for a new facility.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz (R-Juneau) was instrumental in securing a $650,000 appropriation from the Alaska State Legislature for a design and feasibility study. That appropriation is specifically for the design of a second Juneau ice rink in the Mendenhall Valley, where most of Muñoz’s constituents live.
“The state – Cathy Muñoz – is offering us a gift. Sure, it’s bringing home the bacon, but that’s Alaska,” said Tom Rutecki, who spoke in favor of a new rink in the Valley at the meeting. “The school district would benefit from a rink in the Valley because kids can’t get to the rink during the school day.”
Sharon Wildes agreed with Rutecki that more user groups could benefit from a Valley location.
“We do drive to Treadwell, and we don’t mind it at all, and we would continue to do that if, you know, schedules were split, but I think they would skate even more if they could bike or walk,” Wildes said of her family. “Also, our car is always full with kids that don’t have rides. There’s a lot of parents that maybe aren’t as committed, but the kids would get themselves to a rink.”
The Dimond Park location that Parks and Recreation’s director, Brent Fischer, identified as the site currently under study for the rink is city-owned land next to the Dimond Park Aquatic Center. That spot is within easy walking distance of schools including Thunder Mountain High School, which has long desired a hockey team.
But other participants at the meeting disagreed with Rutecki and Wildes, saying that a second sheet of ice would be better suited for the existing Treadwell Ice Arena in Douglas.
Among the most vehement opponent of a Valley location was Robert Sewell, who repeatedly used the term “Taj Mahal” to refer to the proposed Valley rink. He contended that operational costs for an entirely new facility would be unacceptably high.
“I think this is pie in the sky. I think this is something the community cannot afford regardless of the money that was appropriated for the planning step,” said Sewell. “We do need a second sheet of ice. It needs to be at the Treadwell.”
Juneau Douglas Ice Association President Arnold Liebelt described himself as “neutral,” but he appeared to lean toward Sewell’s argument. He also said he worried that a second facility would fragment his organization’s own operations.
“I just have a lot of reservations,” Liebelt said. “The board hasn’t taken a stand, and I’m not going to say one way or the other. Our mission is to promote youth hockey in the City and Borough of Juneau, and that is certainly what we will do. But it may come at a cost, and I’m very concerned about that part of it.”
Fischer presented three concepts for the Valley rink.
The first, “Option A,” would be a clone of Treadwell, with seating capacity for 250 people, six locker rooms and an ice rink.
“Option B,” Fischer said, is based off the Tignish Centennial Arena Ice Skating Rink in Tignish, P.E.I. It would offer capacity for 600 spectators, but would cost more and parking could be a concern, he noted.
The third concept, “Option C,” effectively combines all of the user groups’ wishes from the July meeting, Fischer said, including spectator capacity of up to 2,000, concession areas and a curling rink. That option would take up space that would provide parking under the other two concepts, require traffic to be rerouted and cost more than the other two options, though Fischer said he was not prepared to estimate by how much.
Chris Mertl suggested that Option A should be discarded in favor of pursuing a “think big” approach, either with a new Valley arena, or with his preference of a second sheet in Douglas. He said that in his native Canada, hockey arenas are social and economic hubs.
“Douglas needs some good capital investment,” said Mertl. “The Valley’s getting plenty now.”
At the end of the meeting, Fischer thanked participants for attending.
“It is a long process, and I do appreciate that you’re coming out and being part of it,” Fischer said.
The $650,000 appropriation from the state for design work was granted to the Juneau Community Foundation, a local nonprofit.
However, the site identified by Parks and Recreation is on land owned by the CBJ, and the JCF has indicated it would prefer not to operate the facility over the long term.
Fischer said after the meeting that if the CBJ were to operate a second facility, even if it were not constructed with CBJ funds, it would have to consider the tradeoff between operational costs and its benefit to the community.
“I already can tell you that it’s not a moneymaker,” said Fischer. He referred to Treadwell’s cost recovery rate, adding, “51 percent cost recovery is not a moneymaker. But it succeeds in our mission to promote healthy lifestyle, and that’s really what we’re about. … But (residents) also have a tolerance level of what they’re willing to pay for it.”
The next step for Fischer on this project, he said, is to make a full presentation to the Assembly Committee of the Whole, either next month or in October.
“I think the public is concerned about adding another facility without a public process,” Fischer said. “And that’s what I wanted to assure … there will be a public process. Even though it appears that it’s already down the track, it’s not, because the Assembly wants to know, and we want to know what those costs are going to be associated with running a second rink.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.