Turning off NLA lights

ALPENA – The Alpena County Northern Lights Arena ad hoc committee meeting on Friday only lasted about 15 minutes, but in that time the committee revealed a lot about what could lie ahead for the rink.

Beginning on Wednesday the power will be shut off for about six weeks to help the county battle the facility’s high demand charge for electricity before new energy-efficient improvements are made later in the summer. After a 4-0 vote the committee also agreed it would recommend to the full board of commissioners that the county take over full operational control of the arena and not hire a group called “The Northern Lights Arena-Community” to run the rink. The group is comprised of several members who were involved in arena operations in the past with the Multi-Purpose Arena Coalition.

Chairman Lyle Van Wormer said the power would be out at NLA until June 13 and all activity at the arena will cease. The move also allows current rink management, The Park Family Foundation, to step down from its role a month earlier than what it had informed the county last month. It also gives the county some time to hire a manager and get a plan in place for the arena moving forward.

Van Wormer said what the committee recommends to the other commissioners is only a recommendation and what happens will depend on discussions and a roll call vote on Tuesday. He said he doesn’t want people to think the arena is closed for good.

“We have it right in the motion that it will be turned back on June 13,” Van Wormer said. “We are going to be doing our energy improvements and we want the demand charge at zero. During that time, however, the arena will be closed. There will be no power going to anything.”

The relationship between M-PAC and the county has been unsteady over the years and was at a boil when the county hired Park to manage the arena in 2011. The new group promised a fresh start and new blood involved, but when a list of the NLA-C advisory board was presented to the county, many of the voting members also were members of M-PAC. Van Wormer said the county has concerns about the cost of having two sheets of ice at the arena and having one sheet up year-round, like the group proposed.

“At this time I think having the county manage the arena is the only recommendation we could make,” Van Wormer said. “We had another proposal and the full board will discuss it, but this is the committee’s recommendation. It would have been easy to just accept what they had submitted, but that would not be the right thing to do. There are things in there about the second sheet of ice and having ice all year and that concerns us.”

The board of commissioners will meet on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the Howard Male Conference Room.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.