Private group to run Aspen Ice Garden |

Private group to run Aspen Ice Garden

ASPEN ” A group of local residents likely will take over the operations of the Aspen Ice Garden in an effort to keep the facility open year-round.

City officials have proposed closing the Ice Garden for five-and-a-half months, from April through September, as a cost-saving measure in the wake of the national recession. The closure would save an estimated $160,000.

To protect their recreational needs, a contingency of hockey, ice skating, curling and other users of the facility met with city officials on Tuesday to hash out a plan to lease the facility to them.

A compromise was reached early in the day that would have a private group run the operations, pay for the facility’s expenses and find a way for the city to save about $100,000, presumably in revenue-generating programs. City officials will make up the remainder with other cuts from the recreation budget.

However, after a few hours of contemplation, the Ice Garden users proposed a different scenario to the Aspen City Council, which was receptive to their idea of leasing the facility to them for the long term.

Millard Zimet, who is heading the volunteer group, said the city’s operation is too costly, pointing to administration expenditures that totaled $432,610 in 2008 ” 78 percent of all expenses at the facility.

“We can run it more efficiently,” he told the council. “We are going to stop the bleeding for you.”

Zimet proposed that the Ice Garden be leased to the group, much like what’s done at Cozy Point or the Isis Theater, which are owned by the city but run by private entities.

“The inmates will be running the asylum, so to speak,” he said, adding a city subsidy level will have to be negotiated.

Mayor Mick Ireland said the city will likely be willing to pay for some costs of the Ice Garden operation, such as electricity, insurance on the building and expert staff to run some equipment.

“We are willing to contribute part of the money to keep it going,” he said, adding the contract must stipulate that user fees can’t increase. “I have no problem with [a lease] but the devil is in the details, and there would be some risk on the part of the tenant.”

Under the proposal, the group will be responsible for paying for staff costs, equipment, liability insurance and other expenses.

“I think it’s a fair compromise,” said City Manager Steve Barwick, who negotiated the deal with the group. He added it will be challenging for them to save the city operational costs and keep the operation afloat. “It is not an easy goal to meet.”

A final proposal will be brought back to the council after city officials and the volunteer group hash out the details of a contract.

Aspen resident LJ Erspamer said he hopes the negotiations stay in the public realm.

“I would like to see transparency during the discussions,” he told the council. “I would like the public to have input somewhere.”

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