Norwich won't pay to repair broken ice rink chiller

Norwich - If the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink remains open in the future, it will not be run by the city but by an outside management firm.

The City Council voted 5-2 Monday to reject an ordinance that would have authorized the city to spend up to $680,000 to replace the failed rink cooling system with city funds. The city last week received three responses to a request for proposals for rink management firms, and all three firms said they would pay to replace the rink's chiller unit and related equipment in exchange for longer lease terms to run the rink - in accordance with a provision in the city's RFP.

But the rink will close June 30, when a temporary rented chiller will be disconnected - too soon for a new company to reach a signed agreement with the city and install new equipment. There is no set timeline for selecting one of the firms to take over management of the rink.

The Ice Rink Authority had asked the council to support the ordinance and to consider the authority to be the "fourth option" to run the rink. Only Mayor Deberey Hinchey and Council President Pro Tempore Francois "Pete" Desaulniers, the rink authority chairman, voted for the ordinance. Aldermen William Nash, William Eyberse, Terell Wilson, Sofee Noblick and Mark Bettencourt, also a rink authority member, voted against it.

Bettencourt last week voted in favor of a motion at the rink authority meeting to request that the council go forward with the ordinance and allow the authority to be considered along with the management firm bids.

While the timing of reviewing and selecting a management firm remains up in the air, Desaulniers said under the ordinance, the work could have been done by August.

Hinchey said she plans to meet with Desaulniers, city Purchasing Agent William Block and Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll today to discuss the process and timeline for reviewing the RFPs and choosing a management firm.

Desaulniers said a special meeting of the rink authority and several key city financial and legal officials is expected to be scheduled soon to review the rink management bids.

Desaulniers argued that the rink's finances were starting to turn around after staffing restructuring, but before the catastrophic cooling system failure. A temporary chiller system in place since October is costing the city $1,000 per day, negating the increased revenues. He said the rink's potential profitability made it attractive to outside firms and said the city could do as well.

Wonderland of Ice of Bridgeport proposed a 10-year lease followed by two 10-year extensions at the discretion of the firm and would pay the city 2.5 percent of all hourly rental revenues for the first year, 3 percent in the second year, increasing to 5 percent in the fifth year. In later years, the payments would be based on gross revenues, ranging from 3 to 10 percent of revenues.

The firm would invest $900,000 to replace the cooling system, overhaul the Zamboni and perhaps purchase a second ice resurfacing machine.

FMC Ice Sports of Pembroke, Mass., proposed a 25-year lease paying $75,000 per year or 10 percent of gross revenues, whichever was greater. FMC estimated revenues ranging from $510,000 in the first year to $820,000 by the fifth year. The rink's total revenues thus far this year totaled $629,000 from October through April.

Champions Skating Center of Cromwell, run by former Hartford Whaler Robert Crawford, would pay the city either 10 percent or $75,000 per year for a 25-year lease. Champions would replace the cooling system with a mechanical system mutually agreed upon by the firm and the city.

Champions estimated annual revenues at the rink ranging from $865,000 to $1.3 million from the first to the fifth year.

c.bessette@theday.com

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