East Bethel officials analyze ice arena options

At its May 7 meeting, the East Bethel City Council and several audience members discussed general strategy for managing the local ice arena, 20675 Hwy. 65 NE.

The current contract with Gibson Management expires in July this year and is due for the standard every-five-years review. That process includes requesting proposals to provide ice-arena management services.

Meeting discussion established that the East Bethel Ice Arena has been a financial burden. For the first time in its existence, it operated in the black during 2013 but only because $68,000 from a cell-tower lease payment and sign-on stipend were allocated as arena revenue.

City Administrator Jack Davis emphasized the non-negotiable goal for the ice arena: To operate self sufficiently without the cell-tower money. A 2013 arena budget lists revenues at $272,165 and expenses at $223,632.

Davis explained that enthusiastic hockey volunteers raised money in the 1990s to build the facility on donated land, later appealing to the city for help in finishing and maintaining it. The aging structure now needs improvements, which must be funded through profitable arena operation.

East Bethel received bids from Rink Management Services Corporation, the North Metro Community Association of St. Francis; and Gibson Management.

The proposals outlined each group’s qualifications, strategy, fees and such details as an arena manager, open-ice time, dry-floor events, concessions, advertising, fundraisers, cleaning, security, outreach, maintenance, improvements and more.

Rink Management is a 15-year-old company that also manages the Vadnais Sports Center; it proposed a fee of $94,500 per year. Representative Randy Peake said his company manages 32 ice arenas and offers the accounting and management systems for efficient operations and accurate reporting.

Peake said RMC would conduct an assertive community-outreach campaign through networking and dedicated social-media marketing. He said it would also look into activities to attract young skaters, such as sessions with a cartoon character.

“There are untapped markets out there that may or may not know this facility is there for them,” said Peake.

Todd Gibson formed his company six years ago expressly for managing the East Bethel Ice Arena; he proposed doing the work for $84,000, the same fee as the current contract.

He said he was in the process of getting another city to rent more ice time and exploring such ideas as community garage sales and pickleball events. Gibson said his wife had recently joined the company and would manage social media. He confirmed that the arena has a Web site and is listed online where people look for rinks.

While representatives of the now-forming North Metro Community Association did not attend the meeting, the all-volunteer non-profit organization proposes to manage the ice arena for $100,000 per year plus profit-sharing incentives tied to revenue, advertising and retail sales.

Interested party Jennifer Smith said the NMCA consists of volunteers from public and private business, the community and youth-hockey organizations. She said the group is prepared to meet the challenges of fundraising and long-term sustainability of the arena. Smith said untapped potential users may include soccer, baseball and lacrosse teams and that profit-sharing money would be re-invested into the building and programs.

All three representatives said their fee was negotiable. The Council members decided to continue the discussion on ice-arena management at a May 14 workshop.