ALPENA - Alpena County was granted $73,000 worth of millage funds for the Northern Lights Arena by the Alpena County Youth and Recreation Committee for 2013 while the Park Family Foundation was managing the facility. The money was to be used for new rental skates, money for a "Ready, Set, Skate program," which would teach and promote skating to children in Alpena County and field turf for rink 2.
The turf could have been used to host more non-ice related activities and events at the arena, but now that the foundation has stepped down as the rink's chief operator and the county has approved Northern Lights Arena-Community as its new management group, what will become of the grant money has come into question.
Tony Suszek, chairman of the youth and recreation committee, said he hasn't been notified officially that the county has decided to return the money into the recreation fund, but if it did it could be allocated toward projects next year. He said he believes the committee could allow NLA-C to use the $8,000 granted for new skates at the rink if it and the county requested it.
"The contracts are with the county, but I'm confident that if the new group approached us there would be support for that in the committee because there is a need for new skates and it would have an impact on the kids," Suszek said. "The skates at the arena now are in pretty poor shape and we just wouldn't want the kids to go without them."
Commissioner Mark Hall said the county and NLA-C will decide which path to take and to determine how much, if any of the recreation money will be used. He said if the money is not used for its stated purpose, it will be returned to the recreation fund.
"Obviously we had a management change, that we didn't ask to make, and all of these types of things will be worked out," Hall said. "I'm sure the new manager will look to see if the previous business model is beneficial or if a new model is needed. If it is determined we still want the grant money, it is the obligation to have it re-evaluated by the recreation committee. If we decide we don't want the funds then it will be rolled back into the fund and used for other worthy recreation causes throughout the county."
The committee also approved grants of $55,000 for the turf and $10,000 for the skating program, in which Park would have provided a match to help cover the overall cost and it is unknown if NLA-C will do the same. Suszek said he isn't sure if the turf is in the future plans of the arena with NLA-C in charge. He said he also doesn't know what the county's position with the money is.
"I don't think the new group has an interest in using the turf. It sounds like they want to have the second sheet of ice up for a longer period of time and I personally wouldn't support allocating money for that knowing it would only be used in the summer when people won't use it because they have real turf outside," Suszek said. "It was approved because it was told to us the arena couldn't afford two sheets of ice and it would be used for indoor activities during the winter. From what I'm hearing they are interested more in having a second sheet of ice and not the turf."
NLA-C Chairman Bill Peterson said a meeting will take place to talk about many of the issues surrounding the arena. He said the grant money and the turf will be on the agenda. Peterson said the Multi-Purpose Arena Coalition has worked with the recreation committee in the past and has been granted money for its first year skating program. M-PAC was granted $6,000 for 2013. Peterson said NLA-C also plans on working with the youth and recreation and possibly applying for funds in the future to help pay for the kid's skating program.
When and if NLA-C makes a funding request Suszek said there will have to be some tough questions that need to be answered from those who were members of M-PAC and now NLA-C. He said statements made in letters sent by the user groups to Jim Park has caused some concern among the committee members.
"I know there are questions about why they where willing to pay more for ice than what the foundation was charging if a change was made," Suszek said. "Why would you agree to do that and then come ask for taxpayer's money? I don't know what we'll do with them, but there are a lot of kids involved that could be affected."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com