Report: Planet Ice rink near Johnstown to close in July

When Cambria County’s population data revealed that it has the highest population decline of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, you knew that meant some businesses have or will close because there aren’t enough people and dollars to support them.

Unfortunately, one of those victims is Planet Ice in Richland Township, right across from the Johnstown Galleria mall.

The Tribune-Democrat reports the rink will close July 31, 2016, and its Zamboni and equipment will be donated to Cambria County, which owns the other two rinks in town.

The ice rink already shut down its Facebook and Twitter pages, which would ultimately be filled with a lot of upset comments and a few spewing something nasty. However, it would also be a place for people looking for answers.

The paper also reports that the owners, who bought the rink in 2010 to avoid a closure then, will convert the rink to something else.

The War Memorial was already in danger of shuttering if not for the miraculous Hockeyville funding and additional government funding for improvements. And it will remain to be seen if that will be enough.

The War Memorial will see an uptick of business, however, while it will try to accommodate some programs, those time slots might take away from high-revenue events that pack the arena as opposed to beer league games.

The closure will also bring closure to a series of posts I wrote about how the North Central Recreation Center rink in Ebensburg was barely open. Maybe it would be open for 1-3 hours a night.

The NCRC and War Memorial are both owned by the county and managed by a private firm, SMG. The new manager hired in December said the North Central rink would be used to its maximum potential, and well, he’s certainly correct. He didn’t even have to seek out anything.

About 40 minutes northeast, Galactic Ice in Altoona will also likely gain some business, too.

The Hagerstown (Md.) Ice and Sports Complex sometimes has maybe 2-3 guys who also play in Johnstown from time to time because of where they live in Pennsylvania and they happen to work near the rink. That rink might pick up at maximum 5 players spread across various programs if any.

Overall, the ice rink business is in flux in Western Pennsylvania.

The Ice Mine near Connellsville is for sale, and its unknown if a new buyer would keep it as a rink.

There have been various changes, closures and sales for Pittsburgh area rinks, too, all the while a new one is being proposed near the University of Pittsburgh. Plus, the new Lemieux UMPC rink opened north of Pittsburgh in Cranberry Township last year.

For folks in the greater Cumberland, Md., area, Planet Ice’s closure removes yet another option who didn’t want to travel to Galactic Ice or the Hagerstown rink. Or Morgantown’s rink for those living closer to Frostburg.

Hopefully the bleeding of rinks will end soon, but there will likely be more pain soon.

Connellsville Rink The Ice Mine For Sale

10371444_1062888233749955_7765632009763016524_n.jpgOwners of The Ice Mine in Fayette County, Pa., are actively looking for a buyer for the complex, according to a post on the rink’s Facebook page.

The post thwarted rumors that the complex is shuttering and instead explaining the normal reduced schedule for the summer is coming as the ice will be removed until likely September.

The rink, located south of Connellsville, could be yours for $2.27 million, according to the flyer. That includes the Olympic-sized rink, a roller skating rink, a gym, office space and party rooms, showers, locker rooms, Olympia ice resurfacers and the rink’s naming and branding rights.

The Ice Mine is owned by a business consulting company called Approach Advisors, reviving the once shuttered rink caught in a court battle from its previous owners. You can read about the colorful history of The Ice Mine in a post I wrote in September.

Is that price a deal or nah?

It’s hard to quantify that value sitting on my couch. The Fayette County Property Search did not bring up records for 5001 W. Crawford Ave., or 5001 SR 1051 for that matter. Maybe user error or website error–who knows. Without that, it’s hard to give a baseline of what the county think the property is worth from a taxable standpoint.

About an hour away, the Airport Ice Arena in Moon Township, Pa., was put up for sale back in 2007. According to a flyer by Oxford Realty Services, the 82,000-square-foot ice rink was built in 1995 and sits on 9 acres. The price was advertised for $3.5 million on this flyer, which listed other uses for the site other than as a rink.

However, this 2007 Beaver County Times article points out that price could inflate in different packages, according to owner Jim Lignelli:

The property is listed through GVA Oxford, of Pittsburgh, at $4.5 million for the business and land.

If the property is sold to continue as an ice rink, the price is raised to $5.2 million to cover special-purpose features such as the Zamboni machine that resurfaces the ice and the liquor license, Lignelli said.

A user on a Western Pennsylvania Hockey message board posted on March 14 that the rink sold, but the post is unclear on when the rink sold, to whom and for how much.

A poster noted that another firm, Howard Hanna Realty, had the rink listed for $6.25 million. There may be some truth to at least the sale closing because the listing is inactive now and you can only view a cached version.

Is it weird how the price climbed over the years while on the market, even coming out of a recession?

Anyway, whomever buys the property has to have the cash to sink into it for improvements if they want to keep the ice rink up and running for the long haul.

Refrigeration, air conditioning and insulation needs improved (witnessed fog on the ice last year in the summer along with ice separated from the boards).

Rubber flooring for skates need to be installed in the locker rooms and throughout that hallway and leading to the rink.

The showers need to be cleaned up. The water fountains need replaced or repaired, along with adding a couple of water fountains to fill your bottle easily.

The sinks in the restrooms need to be replaced or repaired. And it would be nice to have soap to wash your hands. Heck, doors instead of shower curtains for the toilet stalls would be awesome, too.

I don’t know how the rest of the facility looks like or its condition asides from the lobby and the gravel parking lot. That gravel lot could use a paving job, though.

It’s admirable that the owners were able to reopen the facility and keep it available for the community. And there’s now some hope new owners will have money and energy to fix up the rink and improve its branding and image.

 

Being the Thunder in the Burg

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The last time I saw a hockey game at the Consol Energy Center was 2011 when the Hershey Bears beat the Wilkes-Barre Penguins 1-0. Somehow Braden Holtby stopped this puck. (By Charles Schelle)

I’m dusting off the blog for a game I’m pumped to see.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at Consol Energy Center, and it will be my first time seeing a NHL game in that arena.

And even more special, Steven Stamkos has a chance to pot his 300th goal.

There’s so much to like about this game.

Stamkos vs. Crosby; Bishop vs. Fleury; Hedman vs. Letang; Kessel vs. Kucherov

And it’s a 12:30 p.m., game so I get to enjoy my day!

Thankfully I’m seeing the Bolts as a visitor at somewhere other than the Verizon Center, where I root for my longtime team in D.C., but there’s a slight sense of guilt as you favor one child over another.

But the oldest has yet to succeed.

So, part of this visit is as I mentioned above, officially marking off the Consol Energy Center on my NHL arena list. I saw the Hershey Bears take on the Baby Pens there in 2011 and a NCAA game the same day, but I can’t count those in good standing with the standards I made up. Even if they were lower level seats.

I managed to see the Pens and Maple Leafs in Mellon Arena before that was demolished, though.

As much as I dislike the Pens, I vividly remember details of the arena because I was so impressed with it. The high school jerseys, the Lemieux display, the Captain Morgan lounge, the great views and that they not only serve LaBatt Blue on tap, but the Tim Horton’s cart has Timbits. I got to have my creature comforts, man.

If you see a guy in a white Bolts jersey in 203, A right on the aisle, that’s me. That’s upper level center ice–perfect view.

If, by chance, you’re a Bolts fan visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, here are some recommendations of places to visit or try:

Take a ride on the Duquesne Incline. It’s an old vertical passenger car used to bring people from top the hill on Mount Washington down to the South Side. Spectacular view on clear days.

  • Visit the National Aviary. That’s a fancy word for a bird zoo, but there are some cool ass birds here. Penguin aren, natch. But there’s a room where a bunch of tropical birds will just fly everywhere around you, and if you’re in luck, they might shit on you. There’s also a new California Condor exhibit that’s up and running.
  • Get holy drunk at Church Brew Works. It’s a brewery inside a historic church, whose architecture was preserved to the point it won a preservation award. The stills are in the monastery, they have a great food menu and you can take a growler to go. There’s just so much to take in here. The confessional as a merchandise booth. The bar top that’s an old pew. The flights of beer! This place always seems to be busy. Good luck if you can find parking in the neighborhood.
  • Have some brats and beers at Hofbrauhaus. There used to be just three in the U.S., modeled after the Munich beer house of the same name, from the beermaker Hofbrau. They recently opened up shop in St. Petersburg at the old Tampa Bay Times cafeteria building, so a little less special now they expanded, but come here for a great time and some polka music. The neighborhood as other shops and restaurants to check out, too.

Enjoy the Steel City and the game and Be The Thunder!

Post-Game Edit: 

They took out Tim Horton’s and replaced all the carts with Dunkin’ Donuts! The travesty!

I will say this, though. The configuration of the DD cart is superior. You line up, pick up a cup and pump your own coffee out and press for half and half or cream and you can open up a little case with a variety of full-size donuts.

From what I recall from my single visit, Timmy’s only had Timbits available. In Tampa, that cart only had coffee or hot chocolate. Both would be served in fabulous overpriced souvenir cups. DD just had your standard, affordable but environmentally insensitive styrofoam cup.

Duplicate Blue Jackets’ Winter Park on the National Mall

If Washington couldn’t host a Winter Classic on the National Mall, hosting some shinny could be a nice consolation prize.

The thought that a marquee event like the Winter Classic would ever be on the Mall was somewhere between daydreaming and lunacy and the Caps dismissed that idea back in 2012. The reason being is that there would be no way to get 20,000 to 40,000 quality temporary seats placed on the Mall.

But you still could put an ice rink there for a couple of months.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have brought outdoor hockey to the city’s downtown this year after trying it out in 2015 to build excitement for the All-Star Game. The team calls this regulation size rink and its environs Winter Park.

Here’s what the Jackets said back in 2015 about the rink:

It features everything you’d see in a normal hockey rink or hockey arena, except for a roof. Locker rooms, skate rentals, concessions, merchandise tents, a broadcast perch for the FOX Sports Ohio “Blue Jackets Live” broadcast team of Bill Davidge and Brian Giesenschlag…this rink has it all, and it figures to be the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind experience that the Blue Jackets and several of their local partners want to bring to the city.

I saw a few flyers about the rink when I saw the Caps play in Columbus on Jan. 2 and was both super pumped about a regulation rink with all the proper dasher boards and glass in place for public use and super bummed that it wasn’t going to be open until after we left town.

The Blue Jackets have not only hosted public skating, but team practices (where John Tortorella earned his fractured ribs) and pick-up hockey for the public (!!!).

Yes, it’s $25 but shit, they have heated tents to get changed in. Well worth it, boys. Even if it means having to play at 6 a.m. I was amazed at the accessibility of the rink being across the street from Nationwide Arena in McFerson Commons.

(The Blue Jackets also had another idea that’s on-point: Dad’s Charity Game. Alas, this wasn’t at the outdoor rink and instead at Nationwide Arena where the players’ fathers played against First Responders.)

The Caps have held outdoor practices when they could at the Chevy Chase Club, but that’s not quite accessible given the private club atmosphere. With the Caps Convention gone for a couple of years now, this would be a neat way to do something different in the District and more for the community.

The National Gallery of Art has an outdoor ice skating rink, but it’s strictly for skating. You won’t see a full-on game going on here or Ovi working on his shot here.

The Mall is just as accessible with a Metro stop on the west end, is relatively flat and D.C. is definitely a walking city. If a budget team like the Blue Jackets are able to find sponsors and build a full rink, then the Caps could and have Kettler in charge of managing it.

The only thing is I don’t know how much the National Park Service would charge to rent out that large enough of a space on the Mall.

Cost may not be the issue, really. It’s probably the incredible restrictions for special events on NPS land. The chief one is about the storage of propane cylinders and restrictions of storing fuel on NPS property.

That could cause an issue if the only Zamboni you have uses propane as a fuel source. And then there’s the electrical access.

Marketing and advertising restrictions would mean the Caps would have to be careful how they use it and market it. Strictly promoting a commercial brand (NHL, Capitals) is a no-no. A special event featuring advertising of sponsors? It’s OK.

Oh, and this part won’t help you sign up season-ticket holders:

Soliciting personal information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, zip codes, etc., or any other such information which may be used for future solicitation or marketing purposes, is strictly prohibited.

Sigh.

OK, I’m not so sure now. I don’t even know how you’d be able to do this for a weekend rink if D.C. ever gets an All-Star Game. There would have to be a huge community or charitable cause, like raising funds for the National Mall, to mask this as in order to work. Exactly the mission of the rink. The community part—not the part about hiding under the guise of a charity.

It would probably be less restrictive to do something like this on the West Potomac Park, which is south of the Lincoln Memorial along the Tidal Basin. This is where you’ll see some major concerts like the Landmark Music Festival which was like a D.C. Lollapalooza with a charitable cause (though how much it ultimately raised, who knows).

Hey, nothing’s going on in RFK during the winter anymore other than using its parking lots to deposit snow. The stadium has way more space than you need, but you’re not staffing the whole stadium for this. You’re closing off access to the upper bowl, and really, any bowl. Just get people access to the locker rooms to change and a way to walk out to the rink.

(Honestly, I know that’s a pipe dream. But maybe offering to do an outdoor World Juniors or NCAA game there would be a way in.)

D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has ballfields that could work but with them mainly being in neighborhoods and beside schools it doesn’t have the same sort of ambience or access.

All that leaves you with is fields at American and Howard universities. Ehhhhh.

None of those other choices have the allure or accessibility of the National Mall.

Mr. Leonsis, it’s time to Rock the Rink on America’s front porch.

 

 

Puckpourri

IMG_1436.JPGIt’s been well over a month since I last updated this blog, and that’s unusual for me.

It’s hard to keep pounding the keyboard when the progress or results you’d hope isn’t there. I’m not talking about clicks, but just movement on the hockey front.

And each day I’m further removed from my life in Florida, so quality updates are harder to come by. I’m trying to stay away from blogging about the Caps and Bolts because there’s such a crowded space there that I’m focusing on customer service at ice rinks, grassroots hockey and ice rink development.

I managed to see a Caps game on the road in Columbus that managed to inspire me despite the loss, and that’ll be an upcoming post.

That said, here’s what’s happening in my hockey world, for better or worse.

Wisp Rink

The hopes that 3v3 pond hockey would happen on this outdoor refrigerated rink has dwindled with the current manager. It’s just a weird situation where I just need more help from other people to break through.

Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is for various reasons suddenly not interested in pond hockey on its rink after receiving an initial OK from the resort manager. A manager in a smaller role that is inexperienced with rinks said no, solely based her decision on talking to the rink manufacturer.

I sent a detailed rebuttal, discussed options that could make it work along with revenue and it was a non-starter.

I started a petition on Change.org in hopes something could come for 2016-17 winter season. But I might just have better luck hoping for a manager experienced with rinks to take over that area. (Or ideally, someone else building a rink in the area. Just not that plastic synthetic crap.)

To my surprise, there are 20 supporters of the petition so far. From speaking to people both in person and online, I was surprised by their negative view of Wisp but I didn’t go into asking what made them feel that way. But at least this would be a way to earn some goodwill again in the community.

Pond Hockey

My pond hockey group — Frostburg-Cumberland-Deep Creek Hockey — was able to at least squeeze in one game with three of us on a pond in Finzel, Md., before the beast of a nor’easter dumped about three feet of snow here.

The section of Cranberry Swamp we played on was perfect for pond hockey. The water doesn’t keep a large depth and after three days of subfreezing temperatures it’s solid. The only thing we would need is more players, more daylight and enough energy to shovel the rest of the snow.

And when the snow storm passed through, there wasn’t any way any of us could get to that swamp or any other place to play. Now temperatures will reach into the 40s and maybe even low 50s for the next 10 days. That might have been our only shot at pond hockey for the season.

Elsewhere, a backyard rink popped up on the baseball diamond north of Chambersburg, Pa.

The Herald-Mail wrote about this basic outdoor rink at Greene Township Municipal Park that recently opened. Of course, the story was posted the day before the snowstorm leveled the region. And now that everyone is digging out, the ice is melting as we’re warming up.

I was semi-furious when I read about it because I haven’t heard anyone at the Hagerstown rink talk about it–maybe nobody there knew either. But worse, the paper reports that the township purchased the $4,000 kit three years ago and didn’t have the right people in place to use it to its maximum potential and get the word out.

Right now, the rink wasn’t allowing any “organized events.” To me, that means pond hockey, so it’s another bridge to cross when it either gets colder. Or probably for the 2016-17 season.

North Central Recreation Center

I haven’t seen any more changes or progress to scheduling at the often closed/seldom used Ebensburg, Pa., rink.

I’m being a bit patient with this as the new general manager is having to overhaul operations to the much larger and famous Cambria County War Memorial Arena and this community rink. These are publicly owned rinks managed by a private firm, SMG.

The manager, Steve St. John, hoped to hire people after the first of the year and that’s the part that can drag based on being able to find the right person and get approvals from his company. And then the blizzard happened. So, it could February until we see staff there at that rink and probably even later for noticeable changes as leagues will wind down their seasons by May.

Morgantown Ice Arena

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The only way a schedule of pick-up and stick and puck will be posted online with enough notice is if I drive out and take photos of the schedule board. It’s just amazing to me that nobody at the rink or BOPARC can find an easy way to post a daily public schedule online.

Florida Rinks

More pictures continue to be posted at a few Florida ice rink projects.

The Florida Hospital Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel is moving along after a slow start. Seeing a frame is good enough for me but the excitement really doesn’t set in until you see the finished product. I don’t see any way that the Lightning will continue to practice in Brandon after this is built.

And at the original Lightning practice rink, the Clearwater Ice Arena also posted photos of its expansion project. I think once the new rink opens, people will be asking for them to close the original part to have that area redone. I don’t know how you can make that happen because you need more space for the benches and the end zones.

I have not seen a single photo of progress of the Orlando Hockey Center in Winter Gardens, Fla., which is supposed to become the practice rink of the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears.

The website, http://orlandohockeycenter.com, is still a splash image.

The last article written was in May 2015 with the Orlando Sentinel’s GrowthSpotter reporting that there wasn’t a timeline for construction, let alone a groundbreaking despite the project already receiving municipal approval. Did funding go sideways? Is ownership potentially changing, leading to a move of the Solar Bears? Those are just two of the obvious reasons this project could be delayed. And of course, 100 more reasons why it’s not being built yet.

I spotted a couple of tweets from Solar Bears fans wondering about an update and CC’d GrowthSpotter for more.

Hockey Retail

For Sports Maryland is changing its awkward name to the slightly less awkward but more sensible East Coast Hockey and Skating Supplies. Why can’t it just be East Coast Hockey Supply?

The pro-shop, which had locations at the Ice Gardens in Laurel, Md., and Rockville (Md.) Ice Arena recently opened in the Chilled Ponds Ice Arena in Chesapeake, Va., which is in the Virginia Beach area. Thus the Maryland part isn’t needed anymore.

The company posted on Facebook that the name change is effective Feb. 1.

In national hockey retailer news, the parent company of Bauer purchased Easton Hockey from an equity group this month in what ended a dramatic period where an ex-chairman of Bauer tried to oust the company CEO because of disagreements with the company’s strategy. Some of that strategy included opening Bauer Experience retail stores.

I could see some of that reasoning of not agreeing with the opening of Bauer stores, especially in a retail environment that is moving more online. But with a nice product like this, it would be helpful to have the company that makes the gear to train employees directly to sell the gear because of the fitting that needs to be done and warranty questions.

Gear reps typically visit pro shops to educate employees on new products but not all the employees are there at larger stores and couple that with turnover, then you’re getting second-hand information that could be lost in translation.

I’ll expand on the Bauer-Easton deal and the landscape of equipment manufacturers in a future post.

 

North Central Recreation Center to be used to ‘maximum potential’

Expect to see more activity at the North Central Recreation Center’s ice rink in 2016.

New General Manager Steve St. John e-mailed me after seeing my message to Cambria County Commissioners of suggestions for activities at the rink saying that the community ice rink will be busier.

“I would like to tell you things will be handled much differently going forward,” St. John wrote. “I plan to utilize the facility to its maximum potential. You should see changes as soon as I can make a few moves after the first of the year.”

I’d like to celebrate but will reserve judgment when I see the results. He at least seems determined and receptive to suggestions and change, which is partially why he was brought in to take over. The other reason being SMG lost its contract to an Idaho arena to a competing company, so St. John was effectively without a job there.

 

Change afoot at North Central Recreation Center near Johnstown?

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The North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa., will have a new manager but from the same management company, SMG.

It looks like some progress could be coming to changing how a part-time ice rink is being managed near Johnstown, Pa.

The Tribune-Democrat reported Tuesday, Dec. 1 that SMG has reassigned Steve St. John from its Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, Idaho, to manage both the Cambria County War Memorial Center in Johnstown and the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa.

St. John takes over for Thomas Grenell, who worked in some capacity at the arena since 1996. Grenell was hired by SMG as the general manager in 2003.

Grenell praised his use of analytics-based scheduling using a “Moneyball” theory predicated on those famous Billy Bean Oakland Athletics. The issue with his analytics is that it reduces risk so much, that it takes away more revenue opportunities. It appeared to have targeted a break-even approach instead of scheduling a “Moneyball” strategy to produce a surplus of money. That would be a novel approach, but even that failed as the county continues to subsidized both the rink and the arena.

That same article said Grenell used free labor from people on probation needing to perform community service to help stage and set-up concerts. Creative. But desperate.

That 2014 story linked to above also only cited money going back to the city in form of a 5 percent amusement tax that is collected instead of looking at the total revenue to offset expenses to the county, who’s paying the bills. Who knows what the number would have ended up being because a budget for this fiscal year wasn’t passed until days to go, the paper reported in August. That’s an interesting Moneyball play in itself.

Back to analytics for a minute. Similar to certain analytics in hockey, Grenell’s approach to scheduling appeared to only factor in how much money people want to spend on major events that are from Johnstown, and probably a certain radius. I’ll be generous.

While the arena was dark for weeks at a time, the NCRC was like a closed mine shaft. Programming for events at the NCRC should have looked at schedules from Planet Ice and Galactic Ice and said “well, if they are having pick-up hockey on Tuesday morning, I’ll schedule a session on Wednesday night because not everyone will show up to a morning skate because of work. And I’ll get some people who play in a league game on other days.”

In other words, just because one rink offers one time slot of something I like to do, it doesn’t mean I’m going to it. And it doesn’t mean it’s capturing everyone who wants to do that one activity, like pick-up hockey or stick-and-shoot. With two other rinks in the area, though, you do have to do some research looking at what leagues play on what days and what kind of crowd you can expect to draw. Most guys would at least like a day’s rest between games and a practice-like session. The younger, fit guys can do back-to-backs.

I’m somewhat OK with an arena being dark on certain days because of the size, even 4,000 seats being considered small. I’m not OK with an indoor community ice rink treating itself like an arena, being closed for most of the day and week, as it’s supposed to provide lower-cost recreation for the public.

SMG was motivated to move manager

The Tribune-Democrat’s Tuesday report fails to mention that the reason why St. John was available is that SMG lost its Idaho Center contract to Spectra. Spectra took over arena operations on Oct. 1, according to Venues Today, leaving St. John without a job there.

While the Tribune-Democrat writes a mostly rosy profile, it skimps on what this means for the North Central Recreation Center. I wrote about the North Central Recreation Center rink on Nov. 19, wondering aloud how a rink can even operate or function having one or two events per day given its utility costs.

Prior to writing that post, an assistant manager told me via e-mail that the rink doesn’t have a full schedule because the decrease in youth hockey programs in area schools. I can accept that, but I can’t accept that the rink hasn’t attempted the dozen-plus options I listed to provide public programs.

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The Cambria County War Memorial Arena tried a “Moneyball” approach to scheduling. It didn’t exactly work.

On the same day, I emailed the Cambria County Commissioners with my concerns and I heard back on Nov. 23 that they were forwarded to the commissioners and the Cambria County War Memorial Authority, which oversees the management company’s handling of the rinks, and to SMG.

It’s unclear if the authority met Tuesday. I can’t find a public agenda or schedule for this group online. I’d love to hear more about what is happening at these meetings and will contact the county to learn more.

In the meantime, I sent the county the list of ideas from my previous post now that there are some new ears willing to listen.

As for Grenell, the Tribune-Democrat doesn’t say whether SMG was fired or being reassigned to another position at another rink.

What St. John has done elsewhere

Just from what I’m glancing at on the Web, it looks like St. John is one of those managers who goes to a rink to turn it around for the company to help SMG keep its contract and moves on to the next rink/arena that needs help. For whatever reason, the situations have not been stable.

St. John only spent a year in Idaho and was with Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., which I’m quite familiar with. I attended a few ECHL Florida Everblades games there, researched its history and ties to a failed arena in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., and tore a ligament in my right knee during a stick-and-shoot. Maybe I remember it too well. The memory still burns.

Anyway, St. John was the vice president of event programming at Germain. It’s operated by a company that oversees both the Florida Everblades and the arena, and both have been on the market since 2013 when Peter Karmanos Jr., wanted to exit. Later, Karmanos decided he also wanted to get out of hockey altogether and sell the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

The arena has a few things going for it that the War Memorial doesn’t. It’s newer (built in 1998), it’s larger, it’s in a bustling area with a wealthier population and it’s in Southwest Florida.

Everyone from Luke Bryan to WWE has had shows there in addition to the ECHL hockey. The Kelly Cup Finals have been played there, too. And the arena has a follow-on rink that is open to the community and can be walked to via the concourse of the arena. Sidney Crosby has scheduled informal camps there during the summer with fellow pros, and the Tampa Bay Lightning has held camp there, too.

I’m hopeful.

St. John helped start up a bar/nightclub in the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville, Ky., which drew the ire of local businesses. It was a creative move that in most cities wouldn’t be cause for concern, but considering the economic challenges in Pikeville and the surrounding communities, folks need every penny they can get.

In Nampa, Idaho, about 15 minutes west of Boise, the arena didn’t do hockey and instead focused mostly on college track meets, rodeo, concerts and basketball when it could. The ECHL Idaho Steelheads play in Boise’s small 5,000-seat arena. Even a new, shiny arena couldn’t be helped. Nampa taxpayers subsidized the arena to around $1 million or more the last few years, according to the Idaho Press.

Cambria County is subsidizing both the rink and the NCRC at about $150,000, depending on who you believe. I can’t imagine how Grenell would report the $600,000 in capital fund grants provided by Pennsylvania state agencies in the arena’s budget. Or Hockeyville prize money.

After what it seems like me dumping on the Trib-Dem, I will give reporter Dave Sutor credit for that August story detailing the discord and dysfunction with SMG’s handling of the arena. I empathize with reporters who walk into board meetings and have different people using different standards of reporting money, trying to make sense of who’s in the right. And your editor will say, “figure it out.” It’s also why you call a third-party source who can give context and point you in the right direction.

As long as St. John can point the NCRC in the right direction, then I’d be satisfied. And I can stop posting about this.

Is Anybody Home at North Central Recreation Center?

ncrc_exterior_004July 4, 2017 Update:

It might have taken a little longer, but full credit to NCRC turning things around.

The rink now has a dedicated website, northcentralrec.com that has an easy-to-read schedule.

The ice slots are filling up, and I’m exited to see regular pick-up hockey scheduled.

What do you make of the changes?


2016 Updates: 
Operations have sorted themselves out since this original article. The NCRC will be booked to pretty much its maximum because Planet Ice closed is scheduled to close on July 31.

Before that, the rink’s operator installed a new manager, who told me changes will be coming and it will be fully utilized. That was before Planet Ice’s closure.

 

Original:

Yes, that’s a legitimate question you have to ask yourself about the North Central Recreation Center near Johnstown, Pa.

Is anybody home?

Likely not.

I debated writing about a place I haven’t visited yet, but when the barrier of finding out a schedule becomes so great, it forced my hand.

I finally received a response Nov. 19 after I tried calling and emailing the rink and its management company headquarters in the spring. I gave up during the summer and tried again this week and received a response the next day.

Let’s cut to the chase: A government-owned recreation center whose management is outsourced to a private company is not open for business every day.

For a better part of the year—and the better part of each day—it sits idle.

A manager confirmed to me in an email that yes, the rink is not open daily. She said in a follow-up response that they financially cannot run both the War Memorial Arena and NCRC full-time. Part of the reason to blame is that “hockey leagues at the school level have decreased.”

It’s an indoor rink, so it’s not like they’re battling the elements.

As much maligned I found the efforts at Morgantown Ice Arena battling technology issues from a decade ago by using technology from 30 years ago, the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa., somehow makes it worse.

I will give Morgantown this: after visiting the rink, I found that they are so busy with programs for youth, college and adult hockey plus figure skating and public skate, there isn’t any room left for other programs. Morgantown needs a second sheet of ice, more staff and a technology upgrade, along with some customer service improvements.

The North Central Recreation Center, however, is managed by a conglomerate called SMG. They manage some impressive stadiums and arenas, mostly minor league facilities save for a NBA arena here and there plus Soldier Field in Chicago and Everbank Field in Jacksonville.

You might know them better as Spectacor Management Group, or maybe its older name, Comcast Spectacor before it broke off from Comcast. That’s the arena management group based in a Philadelpia suburb founded by Flyers owner Ed Snider, who sold his stake in 1997. Today, hotel company Hyatt and concession operator Aramark run the arena management company.

I just can’t see how a company that large can allocate enough resources to run a recreation center with care. It’s beginning to show in Cambria County, where SMG also runs the storied War Memorial Arena in Johnstown—now Hockeyville USA.

You’re open, when?

Look, everyone knows how much money it takes to run an ice rink. The utility costs to keep rink cold, the lobby and locker rooms heated and the showers run isn’t cheap.

It’s certainly possible that when this giant company looked at the books and what they could schedule for ice time, they would lose less money by closing the rink for most of the day to avoid paying staff to stand around with empty ice.

That is so dire, I wonder what keep the rink open at all. Why are they not being more aggressive bringing events to the rink?

My curiosity into what exactly goes on at the rink started where I always begin: looking for the schedule.

Schedule of Events page  lists public skate times and then pricing for parties. And if you want to book a party or get more information, the page says to call between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

This is what that message signals to me: We want your business but only if you can call during a three-hour window during the busiest time of your weekend, likely during a birthday party we’re trying to prepare for anyway.

The amenities page also shows that “Will be developing learn-to-skate and hockey programs.” Who knows when this was last updated. I guess they really didn’t need to update it since they don’t exist?

In the navigation bar, an ice rental link lands you on a Google spreadsheet that gives more insight.

You’ll see public skate times along with father and son stick and shoot, plus practice and game times for high school and youth hockey teams for every single day. Well, every day the rink is open.

Take another look at the spreadsheet and you’ll notice that most days have one event listed. Sometimes two or three. Yes, they are listing private ice rentals, too. If this spreedsheet is accurate, how the hell is a rink operating and making money hosting one event a day?

Be different

Public recreation facilities being managed by a private or non-government not-for-profit agency isn’t uncommon.

Other places, whether it’s a ball field or golf course or rowing facility, have to balance opening facilities for public use and creating revenue through booking events or leagues or camps to offset expenses. The philosophy and justification can get touch with open space parks.

For ice rinks, if you are managing a public ice rink, you ought to be designing programs that are open for admission to the general public rather than closing the facility completely for part of the day.

That means going beyond public skate and father-son stick time.

Broomball, drop-in figure skating, speed skating, drop-in hockey, stick time that’s not being limited to fathers and sons, which does nothing to be inclusive to girls. Or mothers for that matter.

The manager simply gave me that the going rate for drop-in is $165, implying that I’m going to have to rent the ice.

Instead, the rink is looking for its traditional revenue streams and packs it in when they naturally don’t come their way.

Social Media Communication

The social media game is just as weak.

Points for some effort in at least posting reminders about the schedule, but it’s always the same events unless they need to promote some event at the War Memorial.

When a customer has a question, there is never a response either. Parents asking who to contact for birthday parties, how much admission is, or asking if there will be a winter session for learn to skate.

Then there’s this confusing proposition from Sept. 22 where the rink says come on out for Learn To Skate and Learn To Play Hockey from 5 to 6 p.m. … Uh, you really shouldn’t have both groups on ice, even if you’re splitting them up on half ice. This sounds like a disaster.

Scrolling back to June 8, the page advertises that they had ice in until August and were still trying to get people to buy ice. And that’s it.

I mean, I sure hope they had camps or clinics booked for the summer, being the bread and butter of summer revenue. But nothing else?

There was no message saying the ice is down when that time came and no message that the rink reopened. Just simple, simple stuff.

Contract woes

buildingAt least I have an answer to why SMG is running a county-owned facility. Cambria County government was desperate to keeping the War Memorial Arena afloat and a study said the arena should be operated by a private company that would also help keep the Johnstown Chiefs in town, according to a 2009 story in The Tribune-Democrat.  As part of the deal, SMG would also operate the North Central Recreation Center, according to the report.

The ECHL Chiefs left town anyway, and instead a mid-level junior team Johnstown Tomahawks came in. And the former director of the War Memorial was sentenced to prison for fraud, according to the paper.

It’s unclear when the contract with SMG ends. One report says it ended in summer 2014, but an editorial in August says the contract is being discussed now.

At any rate, the Johnstown newspaper advocated for a private company to continue to operate the NCRC, but didn’t endorse SMG to be that company:

If the commissioners and arena authority truly believe SMG is failing to meet its obligations, then they should take steps to find another private contractor to take SMG’s place.

The War Memorial can’t go backward to the days of an authority-hired manager controlling all facets of operation with no checks and balances– and no corporate structure that expects profitability.

SMG is on notice that its work and the results it is showing are being questioned.

The editorial also visits the fuzzy math by the company, showing that it ran a profit when it was receiving a conveniently timed bailout by the state and county to help pay for Hockeyville repairs at the War Memorial that weren’t covered by the prize money so a nationally televised NHL pre-season game could be played.

I’m sure the company will brag to commissioners that NCRC is running at a profit…because it’s closed for most of the year.

Too many rinks?

The only thing I can think to say at this point is Why does this rink exist?

I think I finally found a place where simply, there are too many ice rinks.

In Johnstown, you have the War Memorial Arena downtown. The junior team plays there and a few other youth teams play there—mainly because of the historic nature of the facility, tradition and the allure. Everyone wants to say they played in the “Slap Shot” arena. And more teams might want to play there after the Hockeyville renovations.

You also have Planet Ice, right off U.S. 219 and beside a shopping mall, about 8 miles southeast of the War Memorial.

Both of those rinks are 20 minutes south of NCRC.

Galactic Ice in Altoona is about 30 minutes east,off of Interstate 99.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania rink is 45 minutes northeast.

All of those rinks have single sheets.

Just take Blair, Cambria and Indiana counties’ combined population, and it’s over 300,000, but spread out quite a ways in mountainous terrain and a couple valleys. The counties have challenge with finding enough higher paying jobs and a drastic decline of population in the city of Johnstown after steel and other jobs left town.

Is the rink necessary? It doesn’t sound like it.

Alternative Programming

It becomes more necessary if a few things happen.

Let’s step away from things that take boatloads of money, like attracting a ECHL team.

Can you focus on specialized programs?

Offer something the other rinks don’t.

  • Instead of stick-and-shoot and pick-up, offer a skills and drills. This isn’t a Learn To Play for people getting on the ice for a first time. The first hour is drills to improve skating, passing and shooting while the second hour is a scrimmage.
  • For the high-skill players, seek out your elite coaches or find trainers who can provide next-level instruction and difficult drills to push these players to the next level. Highly specialized individual skill training that you don’t get in competitive hockey where systems are taught more at the high school level.
  • Do the same for goaltenders by finding a goaltending coach to host goalie training sessions.
  • Partner with an institution or retired pros and become a hockey academy.
  • Spend some money and start a broomball program, starting off with pick-up broomball. It doesn’t require skates and it’s actually fun. Very popular with middle through high school students.
  • Become a site to host sled hockey for both kids and wounded veterans.
  • Advertise with U.S. Figure Skating and reach out to coaches and Olympians that your ice is available, and plenty of it. Actually, go beyond U.S. Figure Skating and advertise to other countries because Canadian and British figure skaters are even training at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Florida. Yes, there are many advantages to being in Florida, but the ice time is available here. And the ice doesn’t turn to soup.
  • Offer a Learn To Drive The Zamboni School. Several rinks do it because it’s so fun and cool. Here’s a video I did in 2011 about one such class in Laurel, Md.

 

Hail Mary

You could consider it a miracle that the War Memorial won the first Hockeyville USA contest, giving the arena hundreds of thousands of dollars of upgrades, possibly saving the arena.

The national spotlight surely has more calls coming in. The busier the War Memorial is, the busier NCRC can be.

So, here’s another miracle: a relocated ECHL team.

Thanks to the Hockeyville upgrades, and a new subfloor being installed in summer 2016, the community has a better chance of attracting a ECHL team. That eats up 36 nights plus ice time for morning skate and practice for the home and visiting teams.

I give this a 0.5 percent chance of happening. And be careful with what you wish for. What you want is this in addition to the Tomahawks games because the difference between the two is about 10 nights.

Or, SMG steps up its game bringing in other events and forcing more ice activities at NCRC. From scanning online, the War Memorial brought in Nancy Kerrigan’s Halloween On Ice, Long Island Medium, ZZ Top, wrastlin’, Royal Horses, a music festival, roller derby, a Slap Shot hockey tournament, Jehovah’s Witness Convention and a couple of Disney On Ice Shows. I made it as far back as May.

That’s not a busy arena and loses some events to State College and Pittsburgh, which has better venues. And maybe this signifies to the county government that despite the past issues at the arena—including a former manager being sentenced to fraud—it really should sink more money into renovating and upgrading the arena to be on an even playing field.

The more competitive the War Memorial becomes thanks to quality, the more ice-related events will be shifted to NCRC.

As you can see, there are endless solutions. They take dedication and time to develop. It’s not easy.

But it’s better than shuttering an ice rink for 20 hours a day.

Fedorov’s White Nike Skates Seeing Sneakerhead-like Price Surge

Sergei Fedorov wearing his signature Nike Zoom Air skates.

Sergei Fedorov wearing his signature Nike Zoom Air skates.

Throughout the countless stories and tales of Sergei Fedorov when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday, you could find a reference to his iconic Nike Zoom Air skates in most of them.

Hockey equipment’s design and aesthetics really hit a boom during the mid ’90s and Nike hit the turbo button by signing the prolific Russian scorer to a massive marketing deal in 1995.

And nothing says a statement piece by busting out white skates in what was an all-black skate market. The commercials seemed to be even better than the skates themselves as Nike made its first push into hockey gear.

It’s been 20 years since those skates launched becoming a vintage piece. Thanks to Fedorov’s HOF induction and the chatter about the skates, Fedorov’s Nike Zoom Air model is seeing a booming resale value in a pattern similar to collectors finding old school Air Jordans. Clean them up and put them up on eBay and see the dollars come in.

Typically, a 20-year-old skate might not even be in one piece anymore. Rusty rivets can ruin the soles, leather rot or dried out, possibly mold, or just worn-out ankles. At best you’ll get $30 to $40 for a skate that old.

An eBay seller is asking for $125 so far for these Nike Zoom Air skates, made in 1995. The skates were made famous by Sergei Fedorov.

An eBay seller is asking for $125 so far for these Nike Zoom Air skates, made in 1995. The skates were made famous by Sergei Fedorov.

Not these. Listings as of Tuesday, Nov. 10, show one adult pair is going for $125, only expected to rise. Another listing the Gretzky models, which are black with the white portals and some with silver instead of white, are also around the $100 to $125 range. One seller thinks they can get $300.

Gretzky wore a couple variations of the Nike Zoom Air, with my fave being these white beauties with a blue overlay.

I’m amazed that these skates, if the pictures are accurate and up to date, are in such good condition. Some would argue that’s because these were the days when Nike actually made hockey gear in Canada. And those Tuuk blades and runners were the best of the best. How the plastic isn’t chipped up on some of these is a little suspect. Maybe new holders, but they do look original or at least of the era.

If you have a pair lying around, you may want to either clean them up and take them for a twirl to relive those glory days for us gear sluts. Or, even better, capitalize on a booming vintage market for the skates and list them on eBay.

Fedorov left Nike in 1999 as he himself wasn’t all that comfortable in the skates, which is understandable for pros. He went back to Graf skates that year. Which is too bad because those Nike commercials were the greatest.

A Follow-up to Morgantown

This is how the Morgantown Ice Arena tells people about what's going on at its rink: a printed schedule on a bulletin board outside the rink. It's the only way because there's no Web presence beyond public skate.

This is how the Morgantown Ice Arena tells people about what’s going on at its rink: a printed schedule on a bulletin board outside the rink. It’s the only way because there’s no Web presence beyond public skate.

Having some free time in my schedule and no Halloween plans, I decided to head out to Morgantown for a public skate just to check out things in person.

Hey, it was also a good excuse to get some food at Tim Horton’s.

Much of what I brought up in my previous post is still valid. 

Maybe a part of my post felt a bit too harsh about pick-up and even free skate for figure skaters because when I finally got a look at the schedule, I see there’s no room for pick-up at a decent time.

Before I get to the issues, I like the feel of the rink. It truly feels like an old barn with its wood support beams and small lobby. The ice quality is pretty good for an old facility, too.

But damn, trying to figure out when things happen is a challenge until it hits me in the face.

After getting my workout, I finally saw what you see above: a schedule.

I actually laughed out loud because I had a feeling it would come to this. This is the only rink where I’ve seen weeks of schedules printed out on paper and posted on a bulletin board.

A rink in Fishers, Ind., that I would play at would print out the day’s schedule with locker room assignments, but this is quite something.

Morgantown uses a print-out of the reservation system calendar sheet. And that is the only place you can find out what’s happening at the rink.

And so, this reinforces what I previously wrote.

How can you expect people from out of town, or even in Morgantown with their busy schedule, try to find out when there could be a spare extra session or change in schedule? As the closest rink to Frostburg and Oakland, and for many other outlying areas westward, it’s not the most welcoming strategy.

When I called the rink for a schedule today, what sounded like a 14-year-old answered the phone. The kid just had no clue, let alone no customer service skills. The whispering to the other teen in the background to “shut the fuck up I’m on the phone” didn’t bother me. I play hockey (but dear lord, what if this was someone’s mother calling).

It was that he just had no clue and wasn’t trained what to do to answer the most simple questions about scheduling. I asked them if there were any drop-in or pick-up or stick  and shoot hockey sessions scheduled and he just didn’t understand. He told me two adult games were scheduled tonight though, for what it was worth (nothing).

The excuses about being understaffed and not having enough time to post a schedule online were always laughable. I at least verified that much seeing the adult manager on duty finding enough downtown to just stand around at the front counter or sit in his chair relaxing. This wasn’t just a 15-minute break, this was every time I came off the ice.

One of those lulls in the week—and there are a lot of them—can be spent for 10 minutes maximum, updating schedules if needed. And communicating in emergency cancellations.

During slow public skates, and especially during afternoon sessions, there’s not a lot of action going on that will take you away from the desk. Use these moments to get the rink out there to bring people in during your public sessions.

It’s evident the arena is making money because how late the ice slots go during the week. I can’t imagine having a 11 p.m. practice for D-III hockey. I’ve heard and seen worse in Florida, though, for the University of Florida ACHA team.

Hell, even figure skaters were relegated to a 10 p.m. or later slot in a few instances for November. There may be opportunities for an early morning—6 a.m. or 7 a.m.— pick-up, that works well in some larger cities. I wouldn’t be able to attend those, but it might be worth exploring.

The best outcome, really, would be a new two-sheet ice rink to be built in Morgantown, operated by another entity and different staff. The rink is only seasonal and is jam-packed. I don’t see how there’s enough ice for all age groups and all user groups — especially enough opportunities for beginners.

Until then, I’ll continue to pursue this issue, writing a letter to the board to show what changes are needed.