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Plaza Pool, Northern Lights Arena hit by virus rules again

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Northern Lights Arena, seen here on Wednesday, will not host on-ice events until at least Dec.9, as ordered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If the shutdown lingers longer, it could impact the arena’s finances significantly.

ALPENA — The Alpena County-owned Plaza Pool and Northern Lights Arena will take a financial hit because of the most recent restrictions issued by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19, officials said.

The full economic impact may not be known until after Dec. 9, when the new limits on indoor gatherings and events are slated to be lifted. If those rules are extended — as many expect them to be — more serious impacts could be felt.

The number of actively infected Northeast Michiganders has risen nearly five-fold since Nov. 1, according to public health data.

The rink is among the types of businesses that must close for three weeks under the new rules set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The timing of the shutdown is not ideal, because it comes as the arena is entering its peak earning season, with winter sports leagues and activities aplenty.

Arena Co-Manager Jeremy Winterstein said that, should the closure only last as long as Whitmer said during her press conference on Sunday evening, the arena should be able to hold its own.

If the closure drags on longer, though, finances become more of a concern.

Winterstein said most of the local hockey and skating organizations prepay for ice time, which has bolstered the arena’s bottom line — for now. If the shutdown ends early next month, the players could return to the ice and pick up where they left off.

If it goes longer, then more difficult decisions will need to be made.

“If it goes any longer we would probably have to take the ice down and close, because there would be no way we would be able to pay it,” Winterstein said. “The skaters pay for the power bill.”

Winterstein said the longer there are no skaters allowed on the ice, the less likely it is that the season will be played in its entirety. Before too long, other sports will be in focus and winter sports will be in the rearview mirror.

If that happens, some of the organizations that paid in advance for ice could seek refunds, he said. That is why it is important that the arena makes sure there is enough money in place to cover that potential expense.

“Right now, we have a good chunk of money, but we are not about to spend money that is other people’s,” Winterstein said. “The best-case scenario is that everyone will allow us to slide everything forward three weeks, but we don’t know if that will be possible right now.”

The state’s rules are a little more lenient for swimming pools. They forbid classes and other events at which many people congregate in the water at once, but they allow individual swimmers.

Pool manager Norm Sommerfeld said the restrictions will have an impact on finances, but it won’t be as drastic as Whitmer’s tougher restrictions earlier in the year. He said staff will be cut during the slow time, and there will be other savings that could help offset some of the significant revenue loss.

“We won’t be able to have lessons and we will lose the money from the swim team,” he said. “It will make things tough, but not as devastating as when the stay-at-home order was issued.”

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