ALPENA - The Alpena Board of Commissioners will be looking for a new operator for Northern Lights Arena, and even though it is likely former managers of the Multi-Purpose Arena Coalition may be interested in regaining operation control of the rink, at least two of the commissioners say that move is unlikely.
During the correspondence portion of Tuesday's board meeting Commissioner Lyle VanWormer read a letter from Jim Park of The Park Family Foundation that informed the county that even though the arena is in excellent shape, the foundation will opt out from the balance of its agreement for arena oversight beginning in June. Park said in his letter that a strained relationship between the user groups and management has led to a decrease in ice purchases and volunteers at the rink.
When The Park Family Foundation took control of NLA it lowered the price of ice to $150 an hour and added other incentive discounts on the cost of ice for those who volunteered to work during events. Despite the lower ice costs and incentives, the user groups who are part of M-PAC have refused to take advantage of them.
The foundation was sent 13 letters from the heads of the user groups that encourage Park to terminate current management company Synchronization's Management and replace it with M-PAC, who managed the rink for many years. Each letter followed the same theme in that the groups would agree to pay a higher fee for ice and purchase more of it if M-PAC were reinstated. The letters also voiced concern over The Park Family Foundation considering removing the ice off of rink-2 and installing a field turf that would create opportunities for the arena to enjoy new revenue streams from things like golf driving range and soccer.
Commissioner Cam Habermehl said the relationship between M-PAC and the Park family has been rocky since the commissioners chose Park over M-PAC to run the arena after a request for proposal was issued for the job. The county and Park entered into a 10-year deal with the understanding the ice price would be $150 for five years. It was a move the county believed would allow user groups, which struggle with tight budgets and low participant numbers, to purchase more ice for the kids to practice and compete. It didn't work. Habermehl thinks M-PAC sabotaged Park with a planned boycott and said if it were up to him alone, M-PAC will never manage the arena again.
"There are 13 letters here that basically say they did this intentionally and they didn't use the ice, double booked the ice and didn't volunteer. I think it is the user groups that caused this problem and they are part of M-PAC," Habermehl said. "It is my personal opinion, but I wouldn't go back to the former group and I think what will happen is the county will take the arena back over like it did with the pool and find someone different to run it. If there still isn't enough interest in the arena to keep it going then we'll have to look at closing it."
John Fisher, Alpena junior varsity hockey head coach, said in his letter to Park that he thinks M-PAC and the foundation could join forces and make things better. However, he went on to say the team would be willing to pay a higher rate and book 10 percent more ice if Synchronization's was replaced. Thunder Bay Wrecks President Jeff Konczak said in his letter to Park that the Wrecks have never supported having Synchronizations.
"The Wrecks are currently the second largest individual purchaser at NLA; however we have declined purchasing additional ice and have even lowered it since Synchronizations took over," Konczak wrote.
Konczak said in a normal year the Wrecks would provide about 270 volunteer hours, but have since not volunteered at the arena. He said if M-PAC, which he was once president of, was put back in charge, the Wrecks would purchase more ice next year and also increase the number of volunteer hours.
The other letters sent to Park were from Jake Martin of the Alpena Warriors, David Guzman from the Alpena High School varsity hockey team, Andy Marceau of the Men's Hockey Association, Charlene Fraser, Stacy Dawson of the Alpena Blue Line Club, Mike Seguin AGA All Star Hockey and former M-PAC treasurer, Doug Kreis, Dawn Skerski of the Alpena Figure Skating Club and former arena manager and M-PAC member Jeff Gilmet.
Gilmet is the president of the Alpena Hockey Association, which has seen a large decline in its membership. He said in the letter the league would agree to pay more for ice if Synchronizations was replaced with M-PAC.
"The association understands that M-PAC would likely raise rates to the pre-Synchronization levels of $185 and $175 and still believe we would rent as much if not more," he wrote.
VanWormer said he wasn't sure how paying more for ice was good for the groups or the kids. He said much of the anger is attributed to the second sheet of ice possibly being removed and used differently. He was quick to point out if the groups do not purchase ice, for any reason, other revenue streams must be found. He said when it comes time to vote for a new arena operator, M-PAC will not have his support.
"People forget the Park family put $1.8 million to start with to build this arena and the user groups don't want to work with them," VanWormer said. "If they would volunteer they would have had a lot of breaks on costs which would drive down ice costs and maybe registration costs for the groups. The user groups need to know they are only hurting themselves. You would think they would want to work with anyone to save money, but evidently not. I think Synchronizations has done a great job and this is a shame."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.