Council reviews Millar Civic Center options

12 years ago

  HOULTON, Maine — What can be done to boost revenues at the John Millar Arena?
That is the question weighing on the minds of Houlton Town Councilors these days. Councilors conducted a special workshop on the Civic Center Thursday to discuss ideas and get a review of the building’s expenses and revenues for 2011.
    “As long as I have been here, the Civic Center has never come close to breaking even,” said Paul Cleary, Houlton Council chairman. “When they built it, the intention was anything that we could earn (for revenues) was a bonus. It was quoted as a multi-use facility, but it’s really a hockey rink. That is what it has become.”
“That building was never built to make money,” added Councilor John Fitzpatrick. “It’s never come close and it never will, but that’s beside the point. It’s part of the Rec Department. When John Millar went out to raise money for this one, he had hockey on his mind.”
The building costs taxpayers nearly $100,000 every year, Cleary said.
The Millar Civic Center was built in 1999, replacing original structure, which collapsed in 1998.
Cleary said the building cannot really be classified as a multi-use facility, at least in his mind, because the amount of work that is needed to outfit the building for concerts or other events is cost prohibitive.
“We need to concentrate on what the pros and cons are for this building,” he said. “Then we need to turn those cons so they are not costing us so much money.”
Cleary, who is also president of the Houlton Fair Association, said concerts in the building were successful at times, but with the success of Bangor’s Waterfront Concerts, holding shows in Houlton has become less desirable.
“It’s a decent sized building for concerts, but the problem is it’s labor intensive to set up,” he said. “On top of that, you have the stage and lights.”
Additionally, the process of removing the hockey rink boards is labor intensive. Compounding the problem is the fact that the boards were not intended to be removed and every time they are, the boards become damaged, said Civic Center Director Berny Reece.
“We should be looking to maximize our opportunities for the building,” said Houlton Town Manager Doug Hazlett.
The Civic Center is primarily used as a hockey/skating rink typically from November to March. Ice sometimes is put in toward the end of October, if the weather permits.
And while operating as an ice rink brings in the most revenue, it also comes with the most cost because the ice temperature needs to be kept below freezing. To accomplish this, a coolant system rests under the ice to keep it below freezing.
For example, in January of 2011 the cost of electricity was $7,181. An additional $5,150 was spent on heating the other areas of the building. During non-winter months, the building can be rented for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other functions such as the annual Business Trade Show.
The largest user of the facility is the Southern Aroostook Minor Hockey Association, which rents ice time for practices and games for five to six squads. The next biggest user of the facility is the Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks hockey team.
Public skating comes in a distant third in terms of generating revenue. In 2011, a total of 1,244 youths, 266 adults and 16 seniors used the ice during public skating.
Some on the board questioned whether more hours should be set aside for public skating. As a general rule, the Civic Center is only open for public skating for a two-hour block of time on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Typically, there are no public skating hours during the week.
The cost for public skating is $4 for adults, $3.50 for youths and $2 for seniors. There are two part-time staff members required during public skating times.
Cleary suggested one way the center could attract more skaters to the arena was to hold “free skating” nights that are paid for by a corporate sponsor, similar to the way Bigrock ski area operates.
Another suggestion called for putting ice in during the summer for a week to hold a “hockey camp,” similar to the one done at the Forum in Presque Isle.
Inline skating (rollerblades) was also posed as new option for the building, as many hockey players also participate in these types of leagues.
The group suggested that a Citizens Advisory Board be created with members of the SAMHA league and general public to brainstorm new ways to market and utilize the facility.