ALPENA - Last year, when the Park Family Foundation made its pitch to take over day-to-day operations of Northern Lights Arena, it lowered the price of ice to $150 an hour in hopes the user groups could afford more ice time and still have money left over to lower costs for the kids who participate in the programs.
The plan to this point hasn't worked out as well as hoped, however, as the user groups continue to struggle to increase the number of members and as a result don't need as much ice time.
Arena Manager Denny Dacey said right now 150 hours of ice per month needs to be sold for the arena to maintain the break-even point. He said the arena made ice early this year after a request and sold ice for $100 early on in order to try to attract skaters during the summer months. Dacey said after seeing how little ice was sold, that move would not be made again unless enough ice is sold in advance to cover the arena's cost.
"We started one rink in June this year at the request of the high school, hoping other user groups would come forward and purchase ice time, but it didn't really play out that way," he said. "It is not the price of the ice. The price is ridiculously cheap when you compare what others charge.
"August and September were decent, but I wouldn't say we came close to breaking any records. This all boils down to numbers. They are dropping and we just don't have the kids we used to have. The user groups are combining teams and sharing ice. Really when you look at it we have four sheets of ice, because no longer does one team use one sheet. It is always two teams sharing because of financial issues. We also won't be putting rink 1 up early like we did."
Dacey said if more ice isn't sold the Park Family Foundation may be forced to run one sheet of ice until the number of people participating in hockey, figure skating and speedskating increases.
"Right now we are having a hard time justifying two sheets of ice and we have to run this like a business," Dacey said. "Looking at the big picture down the road, if we continue to do this we are going to have to go down to one sheet of ice. I know some people won't be happy, but we have to run this like a business and we can't keep going how we are."
Last month the Alpena County Youth & Recreation Committee approved allocating money to help the arena purchase a turf that could be installed and removed easily in rink 2. Dacey said the use of the new turf could increase what the arena offers in terms of recreation and also create other revenue streams.
"I don't want to put a date on anything at this point, but if things go the way they are going right now, it could be sooner than what we think," Dacey said. "We are going to have to be creative in finding different revenue streams with the other surface. The turf can be used for many different functions like soccer, a golf driving range or even roll it out and have birthday parties with the inflatable bounce houses and still do arts and crafts and other shows. There are a lot of possibilities."