County looks for options for NLA

ALPENA – The Alpena County commissioners and user groups at Northern Lights Arena continue to explore options on how best to handle the issues at the rink. Last month The Park Family Foundation announced it was surrendering management responsibilities at NLA and the county is trying to fill the position with someone who can keep the arena in the black, while providing the ice users a flexible schedule.

During a NLA ad hoc committee meeting on Thursday, the committee informed the user groups that the price of ice at the arena could be bumped from $150 to $200 an hour. It also expressed a concern over having two sheets of ice open was necessary.

Commissioner Scot McKenzie said the number one priority for the county has to be keeping the arena solvent. He said finding non-ice revenue sources also is important.

“I think $200 will help, but it will still depend on the number of hours the ice is used,” he said. “The hours have been going down for a few years, but if there is enough ice used to support the arena we can review it and see where it is at. We’re not here to make a lot of money, but we do need more revenue and non-ice events are key to that.”

One of the problems the commissioners believe hurt the finances at the area is the amount of use rink 2 gets. The rink is needed by some groups during peak times so they don’t have to conduct practices and games late at night. There are many times, however, where there is no activity on the second sheet of ice. Commissioner Tom Mullaney said removing the extra ice needs to be considered and other uses for the space found.

“You have to use that space for other things than just hockey. We have to find a way to be more innovative,” Mullaney said. “It seems one sheet of ice is not enough, but two is too much. We need to find more non-ice events and be more creative in the way the building is used.”

As far as who will take control of the arena, no one has been selected yet. There have been several ideas presented in how management duties could be changed.

Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said one possibility is having two managers. One to handle ice and rink scheduling, and another for promotion and scheduling non-ice events. Last year there were only six non-ice events at the arena. VanWormer said that isn’t good enough and the county is going to make sure that number increases.

“We will have more events. We won’t be able to make the arena work any other way,” VanWormer said. “We are going to have to hire the right person to bring those things here. I think the people that have passion for the ice events have to be supportive because the non-ice events are going to keep the arena open. That is my only concern, keeping the doors open and having everyone be happy, but it is a hard thing to do.”