Berkley pursuing new sources of revenue for Ice Arena

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published March 13, 2013


BERKLEY — The city will soon bring in outside companies to fill largely unused space within the Berkley Ice Arena in order to earn greater revenues and make the facility self-sustaining.

City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa and Parks and Recreation Director Tom Colwell appeared before the Berkley City Council March 4, seeking approval of the project. Members of council expressed unanimous support and enthusiasm for the plan, praising Colwell for developing creative ways to keep the Ice Arena afloat.

“I’ve always been impressed by your ability to come up with new ideas and different ways of doing things,” said Councilwoman Lisa Platt Auensen, “so I really appreciate you coming before us with another new idea on how we can improve and change and solve some of the problems that we have (at the arena).”

Councilman Dan Terbrack pointed out that, during his six years on council, city officials have constantly had to transfer funds from other areas in order to cover the Ice Arena’s debts. In 2009, the council was faced with the difficult question of whether they should shut down the arena entirely, hire a private company to run the facility or give Colwell some time to turn things around.

As Terbrack told Colwell at the meeting, “Certainly, we made the right decision in going with you (to run the Ice Arena), and you’re showing us why with these numbers and these proposals. The bottom line is that we’ve got to look at this as a business, and the Ice Arena is an enterprise fund, which means that it supports itself. We don’t want to be transferring money in every year — the arena has to be able to support itself through the services that it offers.”

The renovation plan involves establishing as many as four long-term lease agreements within the Ice Arena’s 4,200-square-foot former studio ice space. The agreements include building a training center for hockey and baseball players and a locker room for a new junior hockey team, as well as a privately run concession stand and a pro shop.

The training center would be managed by Next Level Player Development, which has been training amateur and professional hockey players in Michigan for more than 40 years. The organization has been working with Berkley High School players for two years and plans to help BHS varsity hockey coach Jeff Fleming re-establish the Berkley Youth Hockey Association. The area would also feature a batting tunnel that will be used by the Berkley Dads Club’s baseball leagues.

Meanwhile, in the former game room, a locker room facility would be constructed for the Great Lakes Lightning junior hockey team, which would relocate to the Ice Arena and rename itself the Berkley Bruins. In addition, city officials have been in talks with Marinelli’s Restaurants to bring a professional concession stand with a greater variety of food and beverages, while a potential deal with B & R Sports would establish a pro shop within the arena where hockey players could purchase any equipment that they need and get their skates sharpened.

Colwell was unsure of how much additional revenue this plan would generate if all four proposals come to fruition, but he noted that the Next Level contract alone would bring in $10,000 during the next year. By contrast, the Ice Arena’s studio space only produced about $14,300 in total revenue throughout the last eight years.

“We really need to change the way we do business at the Ice Arena,” Colwell told the council. “Really, what we’re trying to do with these proposals is diversify the way that we bring in revenue. Up until now, most of our revenue has come from renting out our main ice surface, so if something happens to the ice, it affects us. But if we can make some changes and bring in some new revenue from outside sources, then we will be in a lot better shape.”

Colwell pointed out that, besides the inherent gamble of allowing outside companies to come in and renovate the Ice Arena, there would also be the issue of having to move some Parks and Recreation activities that previously utilized the studio space — including many of those featured at the annual Berkley WinterFest — to a new location.

“You need to know that there is also some risk involved with these types of changes,” Colwell said. “But if you’re willing to take a little bit of risk, the reward can be quite a bit greater, and I think that’s the way to go here. … Looking forward to how we can do better business, there’s a great plan in place to turn that room into a wonderful athletic-training facility. It can be a multi-sport venue. Not only are we diversifying how we bring in revenue, but we’re also diversifying the clientele that we can bring in.”

Councilman Alan Kideckel was excited about the possibility of changing the city’s mindset about the Ice Arena into something much more positive.

“I recall my days sitting back on the Parks and Rec Advisory Board, and the Ice Arena was always the thorn in our side or the concern that we had,” he said. “There’s the old cliché of, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and I think we’re really showing that here. I want to thank everyone who has come together to bring this effort to a new level.”

Terbrack concurred. “We’ve got all of these new potential assets coming into the city who want to be invested in our little ice arena that people want to shut down all the time,” he said. “And it’s because of great leadership and dedicated residents … who don’t (want to shut it down), people who want to keep fighting because they see what our little arena can do, even though it’s only one sheet of ice, and with all of its warps. … People kept working — they didn’t give up and so we’re here now.”

City officials are hoping to move forward with these projects very quickly. Colwell noted that the plan is to have all four proposals in place by the time the next Ice Arena season begins in September. In addition, Next Level and the Berkley Bruins would like to have everything ready by the spring in order to be able to show off their new facilities by the time the Berkley Days festival arrives in May.

Mayor Phil O’Dwyer applauded the “strong sense of vision” of Colwell’s proposal and was eager to see all four lease agreements finalized.

“There is a level of excitement that some creative ideas have been brought to the table here, some imaginative strategies to save the Ice Arena and make it a productive place for our community,” he said. “All of the people involved with this project have done so much for our community over the years. These are good, reliable and decent people who are making a big difference in the community, and I’m excited to be able to work with them.”