The City of Niagara Falls has put the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion operations up for bid -- offering two choices:
Either pay the city rent to operate the 42-year-old ice-hockey facility in the city-owned building or get paid to manage the business for the city. A decision is expected shortly.
The two regulation size hockey rinks inside the Ice Pavilion are generally rented by the hour by local and out-of-town hockey players for leagues, tournaments, and pick up games. The facility is normally open from August to April.
In 2003, the city, which formerly ran the ice rink rental business, decided to rent the facility to operators, Hugh C. Gee, a Lockport town justice, and local businessman Anthony Attardo.
Their lease expires July 31, 2012.
The original idea behind leasing the Ice Pavilion was to reduce "the burden on… taxpayers ... while continuing public access (for) leagues, skaters, tourists and residents.”
The present tenants pay $39,143 in rent, plus $96,000 toward utilities a year, plus general maintenance and costs of operations.
The city is responsible for major repairs.
The present lease probably did cost taxpayers less, an estimated $90,000 per year, to keep the facility open, not counting a capital improvement project completed in 2011 when $5,087,000 was spent adding a large atrium, restrooms, locker rooms and other amenities to the facility.
In 2002, the year before the current lease agreement began, the city paid $306,077 for operations. In 2001, it cost taxpayers $505,008.
With the current lease set to expire, the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster developed a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to see if a better deal can be made for the city.
The bidding closed last month. City officials say they cannot reveal the identity of the bidders. The Niagara Falls Reporter learned four bids or proposals have been made.
Three are from local men. The other is from a company from Virginia.
The out-of-town bidder, the Reporter was told, is Rink Management Services Inc. of Mechanicsville, Va. Rink Management was the only bidder to propose getting paid to manage the facility for the city. The firm bills itself as the largest ice rink management company in the country. According to their website, they operate 18 municipal rinks in places like Oyster Bay, New York, and Romulus, Michigan.
The potential advantage of their proposal is the city might make a profit. It has been estimated by sources that the Ice Pavilion grosses around $300,000 in annual revenues. With aggressive management that might go up.
The potential disadvantage is the city will have to pay for supplies, maintenance, repairs and all expenditures, according to the RFQ, “necessary for the operation of the facility.”
The city will also pay all utilities, an increase of overhead for utilities alone of more than $144,000 per year, which in addition to management fees paid to the company could wipe out most of the estimated revenues.
Another new expense will be the cost of city employees to maintain the facility. According to city controller, Maria Brown, a $25,000 city employee costs taxpayers $51,072 per year with benefits.
When the Reporter made unannounced visits to the Ice Pavilion last week, we found Mr. Attardo making repairs, many during off hours.
What he did on his own time, for a few hundred dollars in materials, if done by city employees, at time and a half, plus procurement costs, might cost taxpayers ten thousand dollars.
Dave L. Kinney, director of Public Works, told the Reporter that if the city pays an operator to run the ice rink, his department will be responsible for maintenance.
“Everything will be on the public’s dime,” he said.
As opposed to the city paying an operator, the three local bidders have each offered to pay the city rent, plus a minimum $144,000 a year toward utilities, which, combined with rent, totals more than $200,000 a year, plus pay operational and maintenance costs.
Two of the bidders have been identified as Anthony Attardo, a partner in the present lease, and Gene Carella, a biology professor at NCCC who has run Ice Hockey tournaments at the Pavilion for 20 years.
Mr. Carella is conducting five tournaments this year, consisting of, he said, 250 out-of-town teams, with 3,500 players and approximately 15,000 people, counting family members. coming to town for the tournaments which will be played at the Ice Pavilion.
Mr. Carella said he books about 6,000 hotel rooms a year for his tournaments. The 6,000 room nights compare favorably to the output of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation for whose services hotel owners in the city pay the bulk of their bed taxes. The NTCC booked 5,248 rooms on their website in 2011. Most were during the busy tourist season when hotels do not need much help.
Mr. Carella brings his 6,000 hotel bookings in winter –when hotels are under 50 percent occupancy, and at no cost to taxpayers.
Mr. Carella said he plans to open year round, and also open a light foods, desert, and coffee restaurant.
Sources have said the third bidder is Corey Quinn, a former lacrosse player from Buffalo said to have experience in the tavern business. A call to Mr. Quinn was not returned.
Mr. Attardo said he will likely keep the rink open year-round, adding, “I would hate to see a big, out-of-town corporation run the facility and raise rates.”
Mr. Attrado’s rates, at $185 per hour, are low. Calls made to Rink Management reveal they charge from $220 to more than $300 per hour at their various rinks.
In the end, the choice of operators will require a consensus between the Mayor and council. While the Mayor selects the company, the council has to approve the contract.
The majority on the council, consisting of Chairman Sam Fruscione, and members Glenn Choolokian and Robert Anderson, say they are not likely to approve a deal to pay an out-of-town company to operate the facility.
Mr. Choolokian said, “We’re for the tenant paying the landlord, not vice versa.”
Chairman Fruscione was more direct. “I met with the Virginia company that wants us to pay them and met with local companies who will pay us. I believe the city should get rent. If the mayor brings us a bad deal then we are going to bring Dyster back to the table. The days of the Holiday Market where we pay out-of-town people are over.”