Is York City's Ice Arena making money or losing money? Official won't say

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Ice Arena

York City officials have refused to detail the finances of the city's ice arena while they await bids from companies to either manage or lease the troubled facility.

The center, managed by the York Revolution since 2014, has long struggled to turn a profit. Between 2015 and September 2017, for example, it lost about $130,000, according to income statements submitted to the city.

Chaz Green, director of the city's public works department, on Monday declined to provide financial information about the rink for 2018 and 2019, forcing The York Dispatch to file a Right-to-Know Law request for that information.

More:After slip ups, York City puts Ice Arena up for bid

Eric Menzer, president of the Revs, acknowledged the arena has been losing money over the years. But he asserted that the Revs will continue to use their expertise to make the facility more profitable.

>>Click here to learn more about Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law, including your rights and a government's responsibilities.

“Obviously, we’re a business. We do things that use our skills and abilities to work and make money," he said. "We try to be very community-minded but at the same time make a profit for our owners.”

The facility is very important to the city despite its financial struggles, Green added.

"I think it's a benefit to the city and also city residents," he said, citing the facility's public programs and events. "It's important for us to keep it around."

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich did not respond to inquiries for comment by deadline.

Manage or lease: The city is now in the process of looking for a company to manage the arena or, for the first time, lease it, according to a request for proposals released last month.

The Revs are locked in until July 2020 because of two consecutive contract extensions, which were triggered by the city's failure to give the Revs the required 90-day notice before advertising for bids.

Menzer confirmed he will make a bid to continue to manage the arena.

Opting to lease the facility would lend the city some financial relief, as it would no longer have to cover the arena's operating expenditures. City officials did not respond by deadline to inquiries on how much financial relief the option would bring.

Also unclear is whether the public would be guaranteed access to the publicly owned facility. There is no language in the request for proposals requiring that a company leasing the rink continue to provide access to anyone who wants to use it.

Green asserted that although it's not required by the request for proposals, keeping the facility open to the public is in the best interest of the city and its residents. It would also be financially wise to do so, he added.

The city is accepting bids until Jan. 30, and no companies have yet responded to the requests for proposal. It has until April 1 to notify the Revs if it decides to go with a different company. 

History: Menzer, then York City's economic development director, helped convince the City Council in 2001 to guarantee a $7.3 million bond to the York City Recreation Corp. to rebuild and expand the ice rink.

The corporation was handed control of the facility with the plan for it to pay off the bond with profits. Within two years, however, it had lost more than $525,000 and defaulted, forcing the city to take over.

York City had been paying more than $600,000 per year — including interest — toward that bond since 2003, with initial plans to have it paid off by 2021. But in 2017 the City Council voted to refinance that bond with a separate 2011 bond, extending the expected date of payoff to 2027.

Shortly after taking control of the arena, the city hired Rink Management Services to manage the facility.

The company, which maintains ice and related equipment at 28 ice rinks, produced more than $1.25 million in operating profits from 2004-2013, according to its proposal to keep its city contract in 2014.

Management of the arena was instead contracted in 2014 to the York Revolution, the local independent league baseball team.

The arena produced nearly $90,000 in profit during the first few months under Revolution management, but it lost about $130,000 from 2015 through September 2017, according to income statements submitted to the city.

Investigation: While city officials ponder the future management of the rink, law enforcement officials continue to probe alleged employee misconduct at the facility.

City officials acknowledged a police investigation began in 2017, a spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office confirmed in late December.

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.

An independent audit of York City's finances released in 2017 found a lack of “appropriate controls and oversight” at the ice arena.

At the same time, a separate review by The York Dispatch of hundreds of arena-related documents, obtained through multiple Right-to-Know Law requests, also showed bookkeeping anomalies.

Asked in 2017 to explain the apparent irregularities in the documents, Menzer declined, citing an ongoing police investigation involving the York City Ice Arena.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.