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Rink hits goal!

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With $395,000 to go and less than 24 hours left to raise it, Aspen opened its wallets Friday to successfully finish an $8.6 million fund drive for the community’s new ice rink.

“It was an incredible day,” said Matt Vickers, campaign coordinator for SPARC, a group of local residents who were under the gun to finish a two-year funding push by a midnight deadline on Friday.

At stake was a $1 million challenge grant from the Lewis family, which made its pledge in mid-December on the condition that the final $1 million needed to finance the rink come through a grass-roots effort by Feb. 1.

Members of the SPARC board and the Aspen City Council met early Friday behind closed doors to hash out a game plan.

What if the campaign came up short? The city was already prepared to cover the shortfall, but would that be acceptable to the Lewises, who wanted the final $1 million to come from the community, not city coffers? Would the $1 million challenge grant be lost?

“We didn’t want to lose that $1 million. That would have been horrendous,” said Ernie Fyrwald, a SPARC board member.

It never came to that.

“I think Jonathan [Lewis] really wanted to see the community step up to the plate, and I don’t disagree with him,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think the community that will benefit from it should have an investment in it.”

“Jonathan is ecstatic,” Vickers reported Saturday. Lewis is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Vickers, Fyrwald and SPARC board members Scott Writer and L.J. Erspamer spent Friday on the phone, whittling down the $395,000 balance through pledges, contributions and offers to buy the $1,000 naming rights to spectator seats in the ice rink.

“There were times [Friday] when I felt like I was a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange,” Vickers said. “So many people came through, it’s just crazy.”

It was something of a nail-biter for anyone tracking the action.

“It was like the fourth quarter of a Broncos football game or counting ballots,” according to Klanderud, who received updates on SPARC’s progress throughout the day. “They worked unbelievably hard. I think they accomplished something amazing.”

A month ago, Fyrwald said he gave the group a 50-50 chance of raising the final $1 million. When the fund drive was halfway to its goal with a couple of weeks to go, he realized it was actually within reach.

Alpine Bank became the unofficial headquarters of the fund drive and a center of activity Friday. Contributors could drop off contributions or fill out a pledge form in the lobby.

“Half of Alpine Bank was working toward this thing,” Vickers said. “They were hitting up every customer who walked through the door.”

At one point, Vickers said he fielded a call from a New Yorker who’d been urged by a friend in Aspen to make a pledge. SPARC received 11th-hour pledges from prospective donors the group had already identified and sources it never anticipated as word spread among friends, families and business associates, he said.

“There was a buzz around town. I really thought it was going to happen,” Vickers said.

The group hit the $8.6 million mark at about 8:30 p.m., he said. Some of it was contributed in the form of pledges that will come in over as many as five years.

SPARC has not yet determined whether it will need to make use of a bridge loan to cover the pledges upfront, Vickers said. Alpine Bank has offered to cover $2.7 million with a loan, but that would entail additional financing costs.

The $8.6 million total includes $8 million to finance the rink and its share of the common areas of the new Aspen Recreation Center, now in the final stages of construction at Iselin Park. The other $600,000 covers the cost of SPARC’s capital campaign, for which Vickers was the sole paid staffer. Also on the volunteer board are Beth Hoff and Lise Bodek.

The $19.2 million ARC, which is slated to open in late March or early April, also includes two new swimming pools, a climbing wall and a new Aspen Youth Center.

The youth center and public funds are financing all but the ice rink, which the city agreed to add to the project when a group of local residents offered to raise the money to build it privately. That group organized the Friends for the Aspen Sports and Recreation Complex, better known as SPARC.

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


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