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EDITORIAL: York City Ice Arena may finally pay off
York City may finally be skating out of a financial hole it created for itself in 2001.
Fifteen years ago, the city took on a $7.3 million debt to build the York City Ice Arena.
At the time, it seemed like a decent idea.
The old Memorial Park Ice Rink was outdated and couldn't handle the increased local demand for ice sports.
Area high school ice hockey, in particular, was surging in popularity at the turn of the century.
So the city went into debt to build a new rink to fulfill what it saw as a community need. The city's economic developer at the time, Eric Menzer, was an advocate of the plan.
Two years later, in November of 2003, the city defaulted on a payment on that debt.
Turns out the rink didn't produce the anticipated revenue.
The city has since made regular debt payments. In 2016, the city budgeted a payment of $621,402.50, with about the same amount budgeted for each of the following five years. That's a big nut to cover each year.
Still, if all goes as planned, the city will pay off the bond by 2021.
Finally, the ice rink's financial drain may melt off the city's books.
That's good news.
Skipjacks deal: The city got more good news this week when it approved a deal to rent out space and ice time at the arena to a youth hockey club, the Maryland-based Skipjacks, that could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city over the term of the lease.
The Skipjacks will rent the rink duing the day when it normally sits empty.
“I can't see any downside to this,” Councilman Henry Nixon said.
Under a seven-year lease, the Skipjacks will pay $20,000 the first year and then that fee plus an additional 3 percent each year thereafter for use of the facilities. In addition, the organization will also pay for ice time, which could be as much as $100,000 per year.
The city won't see that money for the first couple of years, however, because the rink will need about $225,000 in renovations to get ready for Skipjacks. The Skipjacks will pay for the renovations up front. The city then plans to give the organization a $225,000 credit in ice time.
Five years down the road, when the bond is paid off and Skipjacks' $225,000 credit is used up, the ice rink could actually start to make money.
No one would like to see that happen more than Menzer, who is now the president of the York Revolution. The Revs took over management of the facility in 2014. Menzer the Revs negotiated the Skipjacks' lease on behalf of the city.
Tough market forces: Despite the brighter outlook, however, the rink still faces some difficult market head winds. High school ice hockey has waned in York County in recent years. In 2012, there were five York County teams that used the city rink as their home facility. Last year, there were just two.
In addition, one of the rink's tenants for the last few seasons, the York Capitals indoor football team, pulled up stakes last year after winning a championship and moved to the bigger Harrisburg Farm Show Arena.
In addition, ice rinks, in general, are having a difficult time in Pennsylvania. According to a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, three rinks in the western part of the state have either closed recently or will be shut down, and plans fell through for one rink that was in the planning stages.
So, despite the brighter outlook, the folks who manage the rink may still face some hard times ahead.
Five years from now, however, if the bond is paid off and the Skipjacks are pumping more than $100,000 per year into the city's coffers, the ice arena may finally pay off for the York taxpayers
Better late than never.