Stowe will keep its cool next summer, committed to keeping skating-rink ice in the town arena despite losing its No. 1 customer.
Lynn Altadonna, head of the Stowe Recreation Commission, said a task force formed this year after the North American Hockey Academy left town has determined that the loss will have a negligible effect on how much revenue the rink brings in.
“It was unanimous that ice is the best use for summer 2020,” Altadonna said. “We expect that any shortfall from NAHA will be picked up from other users.”
This year, the rink brought in $50,942 in revenue, largely from camps and clinics, various hockey leagues, and special tournaments. The projected revenue for next year is only $232 off that mark.
Ian Smith, a former professional hockey player — he skated with the Johnstown Chiefs, a Calgary Flames affiliate — heads up Kellian Hockey, along with Stowe High School hockey coach Chris Eaton.
Smith advised the select board last week to play the long game with the rink, saying that, as clinics like Kellian’s and Olympic gold medalist Amanda Pelkey’s camp grow in reputation, they will bring kids in droves.
“You close it down, you lose Amanda and you lose us and you never get that back,” Smith said.
Jed Lipsky, a longtime hockey player, said he doesn’t think tournaments are the best choice for Stowe, since there’s only one sheet of ice and there’s already little vacant lodging in town during the summer. He said the growth is in camps and instruction and smaller programs.
Lipsky said there are certain things that people think of when they think Stowe, and he thinks the arena is, or at least should be, one of them: “Good schools, good mountain, great community and attractive hockey rink.”
He said the library and the recreation path aren’t expected to create revenue for the town, so why should the rink?
Stowe Arena was built in 2013 to replace the old open-air Jackson Arena, and it wasn’t an easy sell to Stowe voters. The $6.5 million project was approved on a 965-755 vote, after nearly a decade of effort and two failed prior attempts.
So, not everyone in town is a fan of the rink, and there has been pressure on the town to make the arena earn some money — the 20-year bond that paid for the construction will have cost the town $9.1 million when it’s paid off in 2032. And $350,000 a year from the town’s local option tax on lodging and dining receipts goes to pay down that debt, and ease the burden on the tax base.
Paul Sakash, at Monday’s meeting, referred to the rink as “a dark hole that’s just going to get bigger.” Sakash was soundly outnumbered by rink fans in the small crowd, many of them regular hockey players.
But select board member Billy Adams reminded people that Sakash isn’t alone in his opinion, and he wouldn’t want the town to spend any more than it has to keep ice in the summer.
“There is a large constituency who really truly believes it should come down,” Adams said.
While the board committed to keep ice in the rink next summer, it stopped short of earmarking $20,000 to hire someone to promote the arena and try to get more revenue.
Town Manager Charles Safford said he would include the money in his budget proposals for the 2020-21 fiscal year, and the board could discuss it in the coming months.