New ice rink’s debut delayed | AspenTimes.com

New ice rink’s debut delayed

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The opening of the new ice rink at Iselin Park, still short on funding despite a pending loan from city coffers, has been delayed until next fall.

The rink, being financed through private donations, is no longer expected to open in March with the rest of the new Aspen Recreation Center, which is currently under construction at the park.

Initially, the city expected to open the new NHL-sized rink with the rest of the ARC, as the center is known, and the Aspen Ice Garden’s sheet of ice was to be melted for the summer, when the community only needs one rink.

“The Ice Garden will be the one open in the summer instead of vice-versa,” said Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

The city’s 2003 budget anticipates opening the ARC ice rink next October, but that target date is really just a guess, Sadler said. It really depends on how quickly the local group raising money for the rink comes through with the balance, he said.

“Since the public opening isn’t until March, there’s no urgency for the rink to open on that date,” said Scott Writer, a member of the volunteer group that is raising the money to build the rink.

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The demand for ice time eases from March through September, so the focus has become getting the new ice rink open next fall, he said.

“Since the cash flow isn’t quite where we want it, when the city asked us if it was important that the rink be open in March or April, we said no it wasn’t,” Writer said. “Our goal is to make sure by next skating season, this thing is equipped and ready to go.”

The $8 million rink is part of an $18 million complex that will include two new swimming pools, a climbing wall and the new Aspen Youth Center. The Friends for the Aspen Sports and Recreation Complex, or SPARC, is raising the funds for the rink privately.

The group has turned over about $2.2 million to the city so far, and has worked out a $2.7 million loan with Alpine Bank that will cover pledges as they come in. For instance, if someone contributes $100,000 split over two years, the bank will cover the entire sum up front so the city can apply it to construction costs. The bank loan, however, does not provide money that has not yet been pledged.

The city, like the bank, is also covering some pledges that will come in over time.

Last Monday, the City Council approved an ordinance on first reading that will transfer $6.2 million from its housing/day care and Wheeler Opera House funds to cover ARC construction costs.

Because the construction costs are accumulating faster than the revenues that fund the project, the city must make sure the construction fund contains a sufficient balance to cover the bills at the end of the year to comply with state law, according to Paul Menter, city finance director.

He estimated about $5.9 million will actually be needed; the $6.2 million provides the city with a little cushion in the account. The ordinance is scheduled for second reading and final approval before the council on Dec. 9.

“It’s not in any way related to the financing of the final project,” Menter said. “It’s an interim measure to plug a hole.”

Most of the shortfall in the construction fund is due to the financing of the ice rink, but the city’s portion of the project is also partially funded with monies that have not yet been collected. The city is applying five years’ worth of excess property tax revenues to the project and must front that money, as well, Menter said.

The money can be loaned from the housing/day care and Wheeler funds, with payback in 2003 through 2006, without hurting projects to be paid out of those two accounts, he said. Most of the loan, $4.5 million, is coming from the Wheeler account.

The bottom line, according to Sadler, is that all but about $500,000 of the ARC is currently covered. Since it is the ice rink portion of the project that is still short, the City Council has agreed that part of the building will go unfinished until the money comes in, he said.

The refrigerated floor will be installed, but other rink amenities ? boards around the rink, bathroom fixtures, paint, the scoreboard, bleachers and possibly some lighting ? will wait.

“It will be able to make ice, but it won’t be finished,” Sadler said.

In all, SPARC has raised about $6.7 million for the rink ? much of it in pledges that will come in over a period of time, according to Writer.

Alpine Bank’s agreement to front $2.7 million worth of pledges, announced last September, helped the fund-raising campaign move forward, he said. In fact, with that guarantee in place, the city agreed to move forward with phase two of the rink, which includes installation of the refrigerated floor.

“Since that time, fund-raising has gone well,” Writer said. “There have been a lot of people who’ve stepped up.”

And, he said, the city has “bent over backward” to help move the project along.

SPARC is planning a “donor summit” on Dec. 5 to apprise key participants in the ice rink of its status, Writer said.

The group is also preparing to launch its grass-roots campaign, during which it will turn to the community at large for contributions. Alpine Bank has offered to match donations, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

“I don’t think we were aware that a lot of our pledges would be spread out over time to the extent that they are when we began this process,” said Writer, noting the effects of Sept. 11 and the stock market dive on the SPARC campaign.

Construction of the ARC, across Maroon Creek Road from the Aspen schools campus, is slated to wrap up sometime in February, with the exception of the unfinished rink. Then, the city will spend four to six weeks testing all the mechanical systems in the building and training the staff before the facility is opened to the public in March, Sadler said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]