The Kenai City Council has agreed to subsidize a portion of the ice maintenance at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility, after an appeal by the ice rink operators.
Rick Baldwin, one of the principals of Phase 1 LLC, the operator and partial underwriter of the facility, asked the council to help pay for resurfacing the ice at the council meeting on Dec. 20.
The city agreed to help, as long as the rink is open to the public for at least two hours a day. Phase 1 has an hour of free skating available in the afternoons and sells ice time to hockey teams and skating groups the rest of the day, but in off hours it is open for anyone to use.
Baldwin said pick-up games sometimes run into the wee hours. While the roofed and three-sided structure's lights go off on a timing system, they easily are turned back on again by any skaters wishing to play, no matter the time of night.
"We thought we'd have three or four kids slapping the puck around, but that's not even close," he said.
Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said as many as 10 youngsters a night play past midnight at the rink.
"It's one hot recreation venue in the city," said Nate Kiel, another principal of Phase 1. "Organized groups only use a portion of the day."
Since the rink opened a year ago, Baldwin said off-hour use has soared, requiring Phase 1 to resurface the ice more often. The partnership owns its own Zamboni resurfacing machine but pays professional drivers to operate it.
"The very heavy use is a problem for us," Baldwin said. "It tears up the ice pretty well and takes two to three 'Zams' to heal the ice."
The city will pay $50 for the first two resurfacings of the day, and $25 for each resurfacing thereafter.
City Manager Rick Ross said the subsidy of ice resurfacing would cost the city up to $8,400 a year, but will probably be less this year due to the lost skating time brought on by warm weather.
"For about $8,400 a year ice maintenance, on a $1.3 million dollar facility, it's a deal for us," said council member Duane Bannock.
Baldwin also asked the city to make plans to buy out Phase 1.
"We have no interest in hanging on for 20 years," he said.
Phase 1's plan always has been to someday be bought out by the city. In the interim, Phase 1 operates the facility in an effort to recoup some of its investment.
He said his group of 12 investors, which loaned the city $350,000 for construction of the facility, will lose money this year due to lost ice time and more resurfacing than usual.
Kiel said Phase 1 lost about $30,000 in its first year of operation and expects to lose the same amount this year.
Baldwin held out the possibility of reversing those losses under the right conditions.
"We could make money or break even if we had a refrigeration system to guarantee ice September through April," he said.
He said the cost of a small refrigeration system to keep ice solid on the "shoulder" seasons is not out of line, at $70,000 to $100,000.
Mayor John Williams suggested finding a used compressor for the job, but stopped short of suggesting the city buy one.
Williams also suggested the rink and surrounding area be paved this summer when the Challenger Learning Center's parking lot is paved. But Baldwin said that was not feasible for his group to consider. Williams said the Challenger Center has lined up money to pave its portion of the parking lot it shares with the multipurpose facility and would like to see the city agree to pay to pave the rest.
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