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Learn to monetize Birmingham Ice Arena

The Birmingham Ice Arena has been a part of the community so long, many of us take it for granted – that it will be there, that it will be available for ice skating lessons for tots, children and adults, hockey teams, and for its popular figure skating programs, whenever we want to access them. But the reality is that, like a beloved stuffed animal, it's showing it's wear and needs work to put it back in shape.


As a matter of fact, it needs a $5.1 million touch up, just for starters.


Birmingham's Ice Arena is 47 years old and typically welcomes approximately 6,500 people each year, many of whom are not residents of the city. In November, Birmingham voters approved an $11.25 million bond parks and recreation bond to make improvements at several of the city's parks and to improve facilities at the ice arena.


Planned improvements include replacing the existing in-floor cooling pipes; sub-soil heating systems; ice plant equipment; dehumidification systems; relocating the main ice arena; providing a female locker facility; enlarging the existing main ice arena locker rooms and providing a team locker room; replacing lighting with LED; and a new studio rink observation/meeting room. In addition, improvements are needed to the arena's main rink’s AC units, of which only one is still functional.


While city commissioners began the process of improving the ice arena on January 11 by accepting a bid for design and improvements by Grand Rapids-based Andrus Architecture to provide architecture and engineering services, there were some noted concerns, such as when Plante Moran Cresa consultant Robert Stempien pointed out the arena tends to cost the city about $50,000 each year when looking at revenues and expenditures. Commissioner Stuart Sherman voted against approving the $5.1 million bid precisely for that reason, noting, “We are asking the public to spend $5 million on something that non-residents will use and will be paid for by residents. We haven’t discussed if this is an appropriate use of taxpayer money.”


It is not that the Birmingham Ice Arena doesn't need to be repaired – it does, and the parks and recreation bond is a logical funding tool for this project. But there is no reason for the city to be a municipal charity, either. The ice arena plays host to the Figure Skating Club of Birmingham, Players Edge Hockey School, Birmingham Hockey Association, Birmingham Unified Ice Hockey, and other hockey organizations and clubs. To stay competitive – and to be a worthwhile tenant of the city – it needs to increase its rates to a level that is both appropriate for its clubs and so that the city can appropriately maintain an expensive building like an ice arena, and not force residents to subsidize a special interest facility.


That's a winning formula for everyone.

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