Not enough hours in the day at rink

Should the city build another ice arena? Juneau ice addicts are split on the idea

Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2005

At midnight, hockey players finish the last game of the evening at Treadwell Arena.

For some, a drive from Douglas back to the Mendenhall Valley still waits.

"The mornings after are pretty tough," Jeff Nichols said. "Fortunately, my boss is a hockey fan."

Arena manager Greg Smith flips on the lights again at 5:30 a.m. for the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team to get dressed and hit the ice for practice.

In between are figure skating lessons, ice dance practice, youth hockey leagues ages 5 to 18, and free time for beginners to wobble around the rink.

"We've had a lot of requests to stay open longer," Smith said.

There's been a lot of skating since the rink opened in 2003, and now Juneau's skaters say they want more.

Die-hard skaters tell Smith they would play hockey as late as 2 a.m., and others want to get a head start in the mornings at 4 a.m.

With youth hockey leagues turning kids away and all users wanting convenient schedules, there are not enough hours in a day to serve everyone's needs, Smith said.

"People call me every day and say, 'When are we going to get a second sheet of ice?'" he said.

No formal proposals are drawn up yet, but the issue is on the minds of many who come through the arena's doors. Ice addicts are split on whether the city should build another arena in the valley so more people could have nearby access, or opt for the frugal solution to tack on a second sheet of ice at the existing facility.

"We're already there, demand-wise," for some kind of action, Smith said.

From September 2004 to April 2005 - the arena's ice season - the facility had about 50,000 visitors and some 7,481 people were at the rink last month.

The youth and adult hockey leagues have more than 40 teams participating twice a year.

The arena's cost recovery is 70 percent, with the city paying an annual subsidy of $129,895. The goal of the arena is not to turn a profit, but to provide a fair amount of ice time to different types of skaters and do that for an affordable price, Smith said.

He estimates Juneau residents pay $2 less than other rinks for open skating - $4 for adults and $3 for children. During the last fiscal year, open skating charges brought in $48,720 and skate rentals earned $13,240.

The big bucks come from hourly rentals for league play and skating lessons at $120 to $150 an hour, which amounted to $181,238 last fiscal year.

Smith said the hourly rate is a bargain compared to other rinks in the state and around the country. A privately owned arena in Fairbanks charges $220 per hour, though that is considerably less than one in New York City, priced at $650, Smith said.

Fees for hockey teams are less in Juneau as well, Smith said. While locals pay less than $200 for 16 games, hockey fans in Arizona are paying $700, Smith said.

Juneau Assembly member David Stone, who also chairs the Finance Committee, said more skating opportunities would be good.

"The question is, how do we weigh that with a second pool?" Stone said.

Smith said no one has estimated how much an add-on ice sheet would cost.

The city spent about $3.5 million to construct the arena. About $2.2 million of the total came from city sales taxes and general fund revenues, with the rest from government grants and private donations. The Denali Commission and the Rasmuson Foundation together provided almost $1 million for the project.

An aquatic center that voters in October's election rejected for the valley would have cost $26 million.

Lance Miller, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, also a hockey player and youth coach, said it makes sense for the city to invest in another ice sheet to benefit the users and the rest of the city.

An added benefit would be bringing teams to Juneau for tournaments. The city has hosted two so far, which brought in 100 guests that spent roughly $40,000, Miller showed in a report.

Also, two ice skating-related retail stores, which merged into one this year, were started to serve the community since the arena opened, according to Miller.

Anecdotally, Miller heard the arena was not taking customers away from Eaglecrest Ski Area, and it is a draw for people considering moving to Juneau for work.



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