The Columbus-based Chiller will manage the $8.5 million downtown ice arena, which is expected to open by Oct. 15 after years of delays.
The downtown ice arena is the final piece of a 13-year, $17 million effort to improve parks and recreation in Clark County, which also included Splash Zone Family Aquatics Center and Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“This (Chiller agreement) has been the last cog in the wheel that this commission has been waiting on to happen,” City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill said. “It’s going to be a major part of the success story of that arena … It just took the learning curve off of everything.”
Chiller is owned and operated by JMAC, the majority owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, linking the city with the professional sports team. The company operates eight indoor ice skating rinks at five locations in Columbus.
The five-year agreement, approved by city commissioners and National Trail Parks and Recreation District board members this week, calls for Chiller to pay for all of the operating expenses and keep all of the revenues generated by the arena.
The company will contribute $500,000 of goods to help the ice arena begin operations, including skating equipment, sound systems, scoreboards and lockers.
It will also handle hiring staff members for the arena, creating an undetermined number of new jobs.
“It’s a really good move for us,” National Trail CEO Leann Castillo said. “We’re not ice arena experts. It would have taken us several years to get up and running and to be where they’re going to be as soon as they sign on the dotted line.”
Representatives from Chiller weren’t available for comment this week.
Chiller plans to offer more public skating time than the district expected, Castillo said, provide competitive prices and will market the arena as soon as possible.
As part of the agreement, NTPRD will place $56,000 per year into a capital reserve account for any building repairs.
“We hope it won’t be used because we’ll be under warranty for a lot of things,” Castillo said.
The building, under construction now, won’t be used as an expo center because the Chiller plans to keep the ice set year-round for the first few years after opening, Castillo said.
The parks board also has discussed the venue’s name, and might sell the naming rights.
“I’d sell the name in a heartbeat,” district board member Jim Kincaid said.
Construction is on schedule, Castillo said. A topping off ceremony — a tradition among ice arena developers to celebrate the last piece of steel being dropped — will likely be held in late June or early July.
The pillars and eagle from the former Memorial Hall will be incorporated into the design.
The construction of the ice rink had been delayed by changing locations. It was first planned at what is now the Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital. Then it was set to go at the former Memorial Hall site before moving a block south of there last year.
The district has interested buyers for the former Memorial Hall site, which is listed for sale for $1 million.
The $17 million parks improvement plan was paid for through $7.6 million in donations, $3.2 million from the city, $700,000 from state agencies and a one-year increase in the countywide sales tax that raised $5.5 million.
The delays to the ice arena project have resulted in increased costs over time. The city recently agreed to loan up to $2.85 million to allow construction to begin this year.
Tom Loftis, who has worked on the parks plan for 15 years, recently said he is raising money to bridge the remaining gap between the original cost and the new budget. So far he has $1.75 million in commitments and tentative pledges.
Mayor Warren Copeland praised the Chiller agreement at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This makes the whole project look much better in terms of its capacity to get going and going well,” Copeland said.
By the numbers
$17 million: The cost of total improvements to area parks, including the ice arena, aquatics center and baseball stadium, which began in 2000.
$8.5 million: The total cost of the downtown ice arena.
$500,000: The contributions made by the Chiller in equipment for the ice arena
Staff Writer Michael Cooper has written extensively on the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, including stories on relocating the ice arena and district finances.The Springfield News-Sun will continue to follow the park district and dig into its operations.