Backing out on the Bubble
The “bubble” as the seasonal ice rink at the Vail Golf Course is better known, may be deflated for budgetary reasons.
Board members of the Vail Recreation District announced during a joint meeting with the Vail Town Council Nov. 19, that the $150,000 the district spends each winter on the bubble is too much for the district’s $2.2 million budget.
Though the discussion of a possible sale of the ice rink equipment has barely gotten underway, one of the bubble’s most persistent critics is overjoyed.
“Merry Christmas, happy holidays,” said Gretchen Busse, a homeowner along Sunburst Drive just steps from the bubble.
Busse and 75 other Sunburst Drive residents challenged the temporary ice rink last year – first in council chambers and later in the courtroom. They won a partial victory one year ago when a judge agreed that a zoning change for the bubble had not been properly published.
Council members last month returned the bubble for a third season after changing the town’s zoning code to allow for”season structures” on parcel’s designated “Outdoor Recreation.”
Busse, who objected to the zoning change, said she hopes town leaders sell the bubble.
“I’ll help “em take it down,” she said Sunday.
Users of the bubble, however, will lose a recreational amenity that has become very popular, said Laurie Kleisinger of the Vail Junior Hockey Club.
“We love it,” she said. “It has easy access, the parking is free and the ice is hard and the air cold. Our hockey players think it is just a fantastic facility,” she said, adding that the club, which buys as much as 600 hours of ice time in Vail for an annual bill of $120,000 has not been told of the bubble’s uncertain future.
Julie Hansen, one district board member who favors a sale, said Sunday that the bubble “is a real drain” on the district’s budget. The district budget has undergone a program-by-program trimming exercise over the past three months to make up for $300,000 in annual debt payments on the renovation of Dobson Ice Arena and set aside enough to improve other recreation facilities.
“We are trying to come up with a surplus of $300,000 to $400,000 next year for capital improvement,” Hansen said.
Hansen, and board members Nino Licciardi and Peter Cook, ran as an “alliance” in last spring’s district election, proposing budget cuts to reinvest in the district’s major money-maker – Vail’s nearly 40-year-old golf course.
Aside from being a burden on the budget, Hansen said, the bubble will face stiff competition starting next winter.
“We really don’t think there will be a need for (the bubble) next year with the Eagle ice rink coming on board,” said Hansen.
Kleisinger said junior hockey has no plans to move downvalley.
“We made some inquiries but their going rate will be the same as Vail,” she said. “And it doesn’t look like they are going to have much ice time available to clubs like us.”
The bubble, she said, has been a great asset to the club because it can be used even when special events block the ice at Dobson. The district has vowed to fill up the ice arena’s special events schedule to pay for some of the arena’s expenses.
“We understand that they need the special events and we appreciate it because it helps keep our fees down,” Kleisinger said of the $140 to $150 an hour group rates at Dobson and the bubble.
“That’s why we like the bubble,” she added. “We never have to worry about a special events taking up the ice.”
Both Hansen and board member Tom Saalfeld said Dobson – equipped with a new refrigeration system – is able to handle all the needed ice time as well as a fuller special events schedule.
“We’ll just have to have some expertise in the scheduling,” Hansen said. Even if the district decides to leave the bubble out of its 2003 budget, the final say on the bubble’s fate belong to the town which purchased the bubble in 2000 for $800,000.
But if the district refuses to pay for the set-up and break-down, owning the bubble alone won’t be of much use, given that the town struggles with its own budget woes.
The two sides will discuss the bubble business in more detail Dec. 17, said Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin.
Selling it won’t be too tough he said. At what price remains to be seen.
“I think if we can’t come to an agreement, we have to dispose of the thing,” McLaurin said. “There is interest for these things out there.”
Kleisinger said she hopes the town and the district will carefully weigh their options.
“Ice rinks are not a money-makers they are something a community makes a commitment to,” she said.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at firstname.lastname@example.org