Ice rink fans await vote

Some worry other projects may kill sales tax extension this fall

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2000

With the appearance of a Savikko Park ice rink on the Oct. 3 ballot, ice skating fans may be closer to their decade-long goal than they've ever been.

Voters, however, are not being asked directly to vote thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the Treadwell Arena, as it has come to be known. Instead, they will decide whether a 1 percent sales tax ought to be renewed for five years. Part of the ballot text will explain the assembly has expressed its intent to spend tax proceeds on Bartlett Regional Hospital expansion, school renovation and the ice rink.

Of the expected $25 million in tax proceeds, the ice skaters' share is $1.1 million.

``A bare-bones facility will need about $1.4 million,'' said Rich Poor, president of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, which is promoting the rink.

The city appropriated $250,000 of sales tax proceeds toward the project in 1998, Poor said, and his committee has raised about $50,000 for the rink.

For Poor, ``bare-bones'' means an unheated building with a bathroom and minimal seating. A concession area, multiple dressing rooms and other amenities would cost more.

Poor estimates rental rates would be in the $150-per-hour range.

In the Fairbanks North Star Borough -- comprising some 70,000 citizens -- five indoor ice rinks and a number of outdoor rinks accommodate the area's skating needs.

Among them is Polar Ice, a privately-owned facility which opened in November 1999 in North Pole, a Fairbanks suburb.

Polar Ice paid about $2.5 million to convert an old roller rink, according to manager Leo Faro. The building provides skaters with one ice sheet, four locker rooms, a cafe and a shop that sells sports gear.

Business has been good, and with an hourly-rate hike from $110 to $125 coming in September and full bookings this winter, the company hopes to climb out of the red soon, Faro said.

Polar is keeping its ice open year-round and is booked solid through the winter with men's leagues, coed teams, old-timers and amateur pickup teams, he said.

Achieving positive numbers for Polar's bottom line has been made difficult because of the competition, Faro said, and mainly because the borough subsidizes its two rinks in Fairbanks.

``The Big Dipper (ice rink), in particular, gets a subsidy of about $600,000 a year,'' he said.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough itself worries less about profits than about its mission statement, said Janie West, the recreation services manager for North Star's Parks and Recreation Department. She could not say how much the skating subsidy was, she said, since the money for maintenance, utilities and other services comes from different borough departments.

``The borough is committed to developing youth activities and recreation,'' she said.

``We've been asked to raise our rates,'' West said. ``But we haven't because we figure the public is already paying rates through taxes.''

Whether to turn a profit or to serve its youth is a decision Juneau will have to make sometime, she said.

The Big Dipper is about 20 years old, West said. Last year the rink took in $310,000 in gross revenues and served about 160,000 people. From September through March, the rink is booked from 5 a.m. through midnight, seven days a week, she said.

The Treadwell Arena project proposes to cover the existing basketball and tennis courts at Savikko Park with a metal building of approximately 26,000 square feet. Initially, the building will be unheated, but will be mechanically ventilated to control humidity.

The arena will be owned by the city and operated by the Parks and Recreation department -- through its own agency or a subcontractor.

There is some worry that bunching three separate funding targets under one tax proposals could present problems.

``The size and scope of the hospital portion of this measure is causing some heartburn around the city,'' said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau lawyer who plays on a masters' hockey team. ``But we ought to give them a chance to make their case.''

Juneau is a wealthy community, Geldhof said, and added he could support the tax measure.

What the proposal needs now ``is for the city's putative leaders, the mayor and the deputy mayor, to start demonstrating some genuine leadership -- instead of wasting everybody's time with advisory votes,'' he said. ``They need to explain why this is good for the health community, the education community and the recreation community,''

The Fourth of July Committee will continue to seek funding from other, federal, state, city and private sources, the committee's Rich Poor said.

``But if the ticket fails this time around, then we're dead in the water,'' he said.

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