Declining revenue from the Civic Centre’s ice arena is prompting questions about the historic building’s future.
The Nelson Regional Sports Council, which manages the city-owned facility, has asked for a $20,000 increase in funding from council ahead of the 2016 budget to keep the venue afloat. The proposal, made to city council Monday, cites a $40,000 drop in ice rental revenue since 2010 as the primary reason for the request.
Sports council chair Mari Plamondon downplayed suggestions the rink could close within a few years but said the annual decline in revenue is troubling.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know,” said Plamondon. “I know there are way more people who will fight to keep the Civic arena open and come up with creative ideas to do that than there are people who just want to close it. Unless there is a huge crash in ice use, I don’t anticipate that.”
City council has not increased funding for the rink’s upkeep from $55,000 since 2006. That number, according to the proposal, should be $66,510 after an adjustment for inflation.
Ice rental revenue peaked in 2010 at $140,000 but has steadily fallen since to $98,317 for the fiscal year ending March 2015, contributing to an overall $3,537 loss for the year.
The sports council’s proposal doesn’t lay out plans for the rink’s survival. The increase in funds is meant to help it cover rising costs and hire a part-time employee to assist the volunteer-led board of directors in finding a financial solution for the rink, which the sports council has operated since 2005.
“There is a decline in ice use. Our revenue is declining,” said Plamondon. “We all need to be creative, to put a positive spin on this, to recognize that we need this facility and what can we do to ensure that happens for everyone?”
Plamondon couldn’t say exactly why use of the rink has dropped. An agreement with the city means the Civic Centre’s ice rental rates are the same as the Nelson and District Community Complex, although the latter gets booking priority, which Plamondon said makes marketing the Civic’s rink difficult.
A drop in minor hockey registration was cited in the presentation to city council as one reason for the downturn. The Nelson Minor Hockey Association suffered a drop in registration after the major midget Kootenay Ice and Kootenay Wild teams each moved to BC Hockey for the 2014-15 season. The teams continue to practice in Nelson, but don’t play as many games as they once did on home ice, according to minor hockey.
However, stats provided by the association show it registered only three fewer players this year as opposed to the 2014-15 season. The association also dropped registration fees in October as a way of increasing its membership.
Minor hockey president Tony Maida said the organization actually uses the Civic rink more than the coveted NDCC. Losing the rink, according to Maida, would be a major blow.
“We’ll do anything and everything we can to keep that Civic Centre ice open,” said Maida. “I played all my minor hockey there. I played junior hockey there. When people come to Nelson who have lived here previously and played hockey, they come back and talk about schoolmates, they go to their old school, and they go to that sports facility.”
Maida said the loss of the rink would result in a significant financial loss not just for minor hockey but also to hotels and restaurants that count on tournaments held annually from October through February. He added he was not consulted by the sports council prior to the proposal’s reading, and Plamondon conceded minor hockey should have a seat on the council with the rink’s future up in the air.
How often sports organizations, that for example also include figure skating and speed skating, use the space isn’t something the sports council can control, Plamondon said.
“We’re just there to facilitate them to play their games,” she said. “So what happens in their organizations, we’re available to help and assist in any way they need us, but there’s nothing we can do about their registration.”
Plamondon said the sports council has spoken about repurposing the arena space, but that it is unlikely to do so. A vintage sand floor underneath the rink would have to be changed to concrete, which would be too costly for the sports council.
The rink, which was built in 1935, was given an extensive maintenance renovation in October, which resulted in portions of the building being closed.