York City seeking proposals for ice arena management
York Dispatch investigative reporter David Weissman has been taking a close look at the York City Ice Arena, which one former city official said has had "problems from day one" and is now the subject of a criminal investigation. The York Dispatch
As an investigation into possible employee misconduct at the York City Ice Arena continues, city officials are considering hiring a new management company.
The city published a Request for Proposals for ice rink management June 14, and proposals are due by July 6.
The city-owned facility is currently managed by the York Revolution, which signed a four-year contract in 2014 that expires in September, though the contract does allow for an optional four-year renewal.
Eric Menzer, president of the Revs, could not be reached for comment as his outgoing voicemail message stated he'd be out of the office until July 2, but he previously told The York Dispatch that his organization is prepared to continue running the arena if the city will have them.
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said he hasn't made any determinations, but he acknowledged he would like to see improvements to the management system at the facility.
Debt: The city has been paying about $600,000 per year for the arena since 2003, two years after city leaders guaranteed a $7.3 million bond to build the two-rink facility.
Menzer, the city's economic development director at the time, was among the most ardent supporters of building the arena.
The bond was supposed to be paid off by 2021, but city council members voted last year to refinance that bond with a separate 2011 bond, extending the expected date of payoff to 2027.
Helfrich said he'd consider recommending the city sell the arena for the right price, but he added that every year the city pays off its debt, it becomes less of a financial anchor.
In addition to the Revs or any other management company, Helfrich said he's working to contract with another company that would focus solely on finding sponsors, including naming rights for the arena, for additional revenue.
He said his biggest goal with the facility is finding a way to utilize it more for city residents.
"We're still paying an outrageous amount (for a facility) used by people outside the city more than (city residents)," Helfrich said.
When the Revs took over management of the facility in 2014, it produced nearly $90,000 in profit during the first few months, but it lost about $130,000 from 2015 through September 2017, according to income statements submitted to the city.
The Revs' most notable move during its management contract has been recruiting the Skipjacks Hockey Club to sign a contract with the city for use of the facility.
The Skipjacks' contract allowed the club to pay for capital improvements to the arena — including a new locker room — with an agreement to grant the club credits for ice time based on the costs of those improvements.
The club spent more than $250,000 on improvements, according to the contractor agreement, meaning they will be allowed to use enough ice time to equal more than $250,000 without paying.
Under the contract, the Skipjacks are currently paying rent — $27,000 in 2018 and increasing yearly — for the facility.
Menzer noted that once the credits for ice time run out — which he said should be within the next couple of years — the contract will generate about $50,000 more per year.
Investigation: While city officials ponder a new management company — the RFP states that a decision will be announced by the week of July 30 — law enforcement officials continue to probe alleged employee misconduct at the facility.
City officials acknowledged the police investigation last November, and Helfrich said the investigation is now in the hands of the York County District Attorney's Office.
Kyle King, a spokesman for the DA's office, said the investigation is ongoing.
City and Revs officials have been silent about the subject of the investigation, but internal emails provided to The York Dispatch by a former ice arena employee show that the timeline of the investigation coincided with the termination of the facility's longtime general manager.
Less than two weeks after the general manager was fired, Menzer emailed arena employees to let them know that "the city has decided to expand into at least a preliminary investigation by city police to determine if sufficient evidence exists for criminal prosecution of the alleged theft."
That same day, Sept. 5, York City's public police log shows that a detective met with city solicitors Jason Sabol and Donald Hoyt at City Hall "in regards to a theft that occurred at the York City Ice Rink."
An independent audit of York City's finances also found a lack of "appropriate controls and oversight" at the arena.
The city's RFP states that proposals will be evaluated based on criteria including experience, plan, ability to provide programming efficiently and effectively, and records/bookkeeping.
Mark Skehan, hired as the arena's new general manager in November, said he hadn't been aware of the RFP and hasn't spoken with Revs management about it.
He said he believes users of the facility have responded positively to some restructuring changes he's made since taking the job.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.