Soon, they could be chillin' in Norwich

The plan proposed by Norwich City Council Alderman Mark Bettencourt to save the city's municipal ice rink appears to be working.

The Rink's future has been in doubt. Expected to be self-sufficient when built nearly 20 years ago, it has required annual subsidies from the city to keep operating. Then a year ago, the chiller used to freeze the ice surface suffered a catastrophic failure, closing the facility for five months.

The Rink reopened last October using a rented chiller, located outside the building, but it is costing $1,000 a day, causing more financial losses.

Alderman Bettencourt, also a member of the Ice Arena Authority, pushed a proposal to seek proposals from private firms interested in managing the rink and sharing revenue with the city. Bidders also had the option to provide a new chiller in return for a long lease.

The city received three bids this week. All include the providing of the chiller and varying revenue-sharing proposals. While there is much negotiating to be done before a rink management firm can be selected, the situation looks promising.

Pending on the council agenda is a $680,000 bond proposal to buy a chiller. The public, discouraged by problems at the rink over the years, had viewed that investment skeptically. Without a chiller, however, the only option would be to close the rink to ice skating.

Now it appears the council can avoid making that tough choice by instead signing one of the private firms to replace the chiller and manage the facility,

Some fellow Ice Arena Authority members criticized Alderman Bettencourt for seeking to turn over operations to a private management firm. This newspaper questioned if the move was necessary. It looks like Alderman Bettencourt had the right idea.

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