York City nears deal with firm to run troubled ice arena

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Ice Arena

York City has a basic framework of a deal with a Maryland-based management company that could end with the firm leasing York City Ice Arena, a move that could provide some relief to taxpayers.

No contract has been signed, but the city has notified other bidders that it intends to follow through with Black Bear Sports Group, a private company that specializes in sports and entertainment facilities, officials said. 

"It was the best opportunity for the City of York," said Chaz Green, director of public works. "They have a whole lot of experience."

Green said that it is too early in the process to say for sure whether the company would opt to lease or manage the facility. More details will be available next week, he said.

Black Bear Sports Group did not respond to requests for comment.

It is also unclear whether the company would keep the arena open for public use.

City officials have said opting to lease the facility would provide the city financial relief, as it would no longer have to cover the arena's operating expenditures.

Leasing the facility could be quite the task, though, as it has hemorrhaged money under its current manager, the York Revolution, since the company took over in 2014 after the city opted not to stick with Rink Management Services, the former manager.

From January to October 2019 alone, the arena was in the hole $114,000, according to income statements posted by the city while soliciting proposals.

The income statements, dating back to 2009, appear to show that the arena didn't suffer losses until the Revs took over in 2014. But that year's financial statements were never turned over to the city, said Tom Ray, the city's business administrator. 

Revs President Eric Menzer said there is no bad blood with the city following its decision, adding that it was his impression that Black bear is looking to lease the facility.

Menzer mulled leasing the facility, he said, but because that would put the property tax burden on the Revs, it was not economically viable.

"If they have found someone that's willing to lease it, that's better for the taxpayers," Menzer said. "As a taxpayer, more power to them."

Before the most recent request for proposals, the city twice failed to abide by its contract in advertising its intent to put management of the rink up for bid, triggering two consecutive one-year contract extensions for the Revs.

The contract mandates the city give the team 90 days' notice before advertising for bids. Because the city twice failed to do so — incidents City Council President Henry Nixon called problematic and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich called intentional — the Revs are locked in until July.

Amid the impact of the coronavirus, though, the existing contract includes language that permits the Revs to continue managing the facility on a monthly basis until a new company takes over.

Meanwhile, a three-year-long investigation into employee misconduct continues, York County District Attorney's Office spokesperson Kyle King confirmed.

In 2017, York City Police launched an investigation into alleged employee misconduct at the facility, a probe that later was taken over by county detectives in the York County District Attorney's Office.

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 the ongoing police investigation involving the York City Ice Arena.

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