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Skating rink buyout idea on thin ice

MITCH TOBIN Citizen Staff Writer

Owners of Gateway Ice Center want the city to buy the facility, but the proposal is receiving a chilly reception from the City Council.

Numerous community and youth groups – ranging from the Boys and Girls Scouts to the Tucson Urban League – also are encouraging the city to study the feasibility of the purchase.

Backers of the idea will pitch their case to the council Monday afternoon.

Although local skating clubs use the ice at the Tucson Convention Center, Gateway is the only rink open to the general public.

Some City Council members say the purchase would amount to a bailout of a failing private business.

”To think the city should pick up a business that is marginal is an insult to the taxpayers of this community,” said Councilwoman Carol West. ”Don’t even get me started.”

Rodney Glassman, Gateway’s manager, said the 4-year-old rink, at 7333 E. Rosewood, is on thin ice. The business is only breaking even at 50 percent capacity, and Glassman said he’s been unable to find private buyers.

”The situation is terminal,” he said.

Glassman said if the city buys the rink, it could easily turn a profit and dramatically expand its use by youth groups, many of whom could skate for free. The city could either manage the rink itself or have a private company do the job, he said.

Glassman points to a December study from the city’s Office of Economic Development that found city ownership would turn the rink’s projected $500,000 losses in the next three years into profits of $280,000 to $300,000.

A city-operated rink would save money because it wouldn’t have to pay bank charges, city taxes and licenses, or private management costs.

The study noted the rink’s operating and maintenance costs were still unknown, but Glassman said they were included in the figures he provided to the city.

West said the facility needs extensive maintenance work and would increase the city’s liability from injuries.

”We’re not going to buy it,” said Councilman Fred Ronstadt. ”I don’t think there’s anyone on the council who supports that.”

Ronstadt said the city’s study ”says nothing” about the rink’s financial prospects under city ownership because it was based on budget projections and unaudited information.

Ronstadt’s father, former Parks & Recreation Director Jim Ronstadt, proposed the city build an ice rink at the East Side Udall Center in 1995. But Glassman’s father, Roger, successfully argued against it.

”Back then they were saying, ‘Don’t you dare, it’s a private sector thing,’ ” Fred Ronstadt said. ”Now that they’re in financial trouble they come to the city and say we should own it. What’s up with that?”

Rodney Glassman admits his father was wrong and the elder Ronstadt was right. But he says the city should at least do a more in-depth study to see if it makes financial sense to buy the facility.

”We’re not asking them to make any blind decisions on Monday, but simply to look at the options,” Glassman said. ”I don’t want to see the children of our community caught in the middle of a political battle.”

Glassman said the rink is flexible on a purchase price, but the maximum would be $8 million.

Two council-appointed citizens’ groups – The Tucson Community Center Commission and the Tucson Convention Center Commission – have also recommended the mayor and council study Gateway’s proposal.

But City Manager Luis Gutierrez recommended against the purchase ”in light of the many existing high-priority needs the city has before it and the city’s financial constraints to adequately deal with these priorities.”

Mitch Tobin’s e-mail: mtobin@tucsoncitizen.com


• Who: City Council members, Mayor Bob Walkup, youth groups

• What: Study session on possible purchase of ice rink

• When: Noon Monday

• Where: City Hall, 255 W. Alameda

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