Ice Arena improvements look to take financial strain off city

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published October 9, 2013

 The city of Berkley decided to move from crepe paper to paint to color the ice at the Berkley Ice Arena. While painting “brightened” up the place, according to Parks and Recreation Director Tom Colwell, it also allowed logos to be put on the ice for the first time.

The city of Berkley decided to move from crepe paper to paint to color the ice at the Berkley Ice Arena. While painting “brightened” up the place, according to Parks and Recreation Director Tom Colwell, it also allowed logos to be put on the ice for the first time.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

BERKLEY — In March, Berkley Parks and Recreation Director Tom Colwell and City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa met in front of City Council to discuss potential outside revenue the city could bring in by leasing out space in the Berkley Ice Arena.

For about a decade, Colwell said, the fate of the Ice Arena has been in question, with more money being put into the space than it was generating.

Now, with winter just around the corner, the Ice Arena may finally have what it needs to both serve the community and not put a financial strain on the city.

Numerous improvements and leases were made over the summer to improve the arena aesthetically and practically. From leases with a concession company to bringing in a junior hockey team, Colwell said the arena is better than ever.

“We certainly take pride in that building and feel hockey is important to the city of Berkley, and we really wanted to try and change some things in the building,” Colwell said. “We were really trying to diversify what we can do in the building. We were able to make aesthetic improvements and bring in monthly rent from several leasers.”

Aesthetically, the major improvements in the arena are noticeable when you first enter the building. New matting lines the floor from the entrance to the ice, serving as both pleasant to the eye and safer for the skaters.

Painting also took place all over the building to give it a fresh look. Painting wasn’t just done on the walls, however, as Colwell said the city moved from using crepe paper to painting the ice.

“Typically, what we did in the past was put down crepe paper, and you could see concrete under the ice, and the more people would skate, the more the color went in,” he said. “This year, we painted the ice, and it helps brighten up the building, and it makes a difference. We were also able to add logos to center ice, and it allows us to show off our hometown association.

“We were one of the last groups that still used crepe paper design, and painting it makes a night-and-day difference.”

The improvements that will bring money in for the arena and the city include leasing out several different areas of the building. In total, the leases are expected to bring in $16,200 per year. Over the summer, the Parks and Recreation Department leased the baseball field concessions to an outside company, which brought in monthly rent for the city, something Colwell said will be done in the arena.

Another area was leased for a group to make an off-ice training space, not only for hockey, but for other sports, such as baseball. A pro shop will also be built, allowing hockey players to sharpen their skates or buy everyday equipment.

The Ice Arena will also serve as home to the Berkley Bruins, a junior hockey team that Colwell said played most of their games around Fraser in the past. The team will be building a new locker room in their new home to go along with the other improvements.

“The prime tenants have been the Berkley Youth Hockey Association and Berkley High School, and we had a variety of groups that filled in around that,” he said. “People have loyalty to this rink, and the junior team is a new thing for kids who are looking to get some experience before going off to college. We had a lot of ice in years past that went by unsold, but now we have that sold and something more for the community to enjoy.”

Parks and recreation departments often get budgets cut if a city is trying to balance a tight budget, and Berkley was no exception, Bais-DiSessa said. But, with leasing out areas of the Ice Arena, the facility will be able to stay open for the community.

“We went through this 10 years ago where we had to make some tough budget decisions, and we cut the parks and recreation budget by more than 50 percent,” Bais-DiSessa said. “What the city has done is recover our costs for any program we provide. I’m optimistic the arena will continue to do well, and I am very excited to have the new Berkley Bruins coming to our city and the other contracts, as well.”

The Ice Arena was built in 1974 and underwent some upgrades in 1994. It may not be the biggest arena in the metro Detroit area, Colwell said, but it is something the community takes pride in.

“The arena has been around for a long time, and a lot of arenas around us have more than one ice surface, but we only have one and I think that adds to the feel of the building,” he said. “We want to do what we can to keep the place looking right and keep it clean. What we can control we focus on because of the importance this building has to the city of Berkley.”