A new minor-league football team could help to turn the financial tide at the York City Ice Arena, a longtime drain on the York City budget due to become the team's home turf.
At least, that's what some York City officials are hoping.
The American Indoor Football league announced this week that it is bringing a football team to York in the spring of 2013. The yet-to-be-named team will join a six-team East Coast division and play four home games at the city-owned ice arena.
The agreement with American Indoor Football has, so far, won the approval of York City officials like Public Works Director Jim Gross. He's hoping the football games will draw a new crowd to the arena.
"Then they might come back to skate," Gross said.
Under normal circumstances, attendance figures at a local skating rink wouldn't be the concern of a city department head. But York officials have spent the past decade trying to unravel a financial mess that ultimately strapped city taxpayers with a $620,000 annual payment.
The city owned an ice rink for "many, many years," according to city business administrator Michael O'Rourke.
Twelve years go, the nonprofit York City Recreation Corp. approached the city about using land in Memorial Park to build a new ice arena. The city guaranteed a $7.31 million bond on the new rink in 2001.
Soon afterward, the YCRC said it could no longer make payments, and the city took over the debt in 2003.
That obligation continues. Each year, the city pays about $620,000 toward the debt service on the ice arena.
The arena operates on an annual budget of about $1 million, but most of that money covers the cost of operating the facility. Next year, the arena is projected to contribute just $150,000 toward the debt.
That leaves about $470,000 for the cash-strapped city to find elsewhere. If the football team generates enough revenue to increase the arena's annual debt-service contribution, that's a good thing, O'Rourke and other officials said.
Echoing a sentiment frequently stated by city officials, York City Councilman Michael Helfrich said he'd happily sell the facility to free taxpayers from the annual debt burden.
But, as long as the facility is making money, it makes sense to keep it open, he said.
"While it's open, I will invite and support anybody that wants to use the facility," Helfrich said.
The league's season runs from March until June - matching up almost perfectly with the slowest months at the ice arena, said Mike Cleveland, the facility's general manager.
That means steady revenue at a time when the arena normally makes very little money, Cleveland said.
Cleveland said he's also on the lookout for other groups that might pay to use the facility during the months when the league's artificial turf is in place.
Asked Wednesday if the football league might be interested in purchasing the ice arena, league CEO John Morris smiled.
"We would look at all options," he replied.
The league, which will enter its eighth season next spring, played a game between the Harrisburg Stampede and a Virginia team at the York ice arena last April to gauge interest in bringing a team to York. The contest drew a large turnout of fans, but issues with the playing surface made it seem unlikely games could be held in the arena.
Those issues have since been worked out, Morris said.
Some minor upgrades are planned for the Vander Avenue facility to reach a 1,500-person seating capacity. Tickets will most likely cost between $10 and $12.
The arena's agreement with the league guarantees the team will pay $1,000 to use the facility at each of the four home games. The arena is also entitled to a percentage of ticket and banner advertising sales, Cleveland said.
Other teams have offered on-field youth programs before games, and York is hoping to do the same, Morris said.
"It's not just about coming here to play football," he said. "It's about having an impact on the city."
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.