Bubble belongs down valley, say backers
Vail’s ice bubble will be deflated later this month. Where, or if, it will be set up next year is likely to spur some debate.
At the Vail Recreation District’s regular board meeting Tuesday, board members continued to voice their opposition to running the bubble another season, and agreed with those who said the inflatable building might be better used in Edwards, where it might tap the skating interest of mid-valley residents.
Addressing the board and the public, rec district director Dennis Stein again made the district’s case for getting out of the bubble business. Stein said skater numbers are down at both the bubble and at Dobson ice arena. At current levels of use, all programs could be run out of Dobson, he said. In addition, Stein said, between revenue lost from skaters not using Dobson, and the costs of operating the bubble, the district will probably lose $50,000 or more this season.
Board member Nino Licciardi said that kind of financial drain is unacceptable in a district that has a hard time funding some basic operating expenses. “We’re scraping to get enough lawn mowers for the golf course,” he said.
The bubble actually belongs to the town of Vail, which has set up and taken down the structure the last two seasons. Each season’s setup and teardown costs about $200,000, not counting what the recreation district spends to rehabilitate the golf course driving range on which the structure sits.
Vail resident Ginny Crowley, who this year organized a four-team, valley-wide women’s hockey league, said putting up the bubble at Edwards makes a lot of sense, especially if the women’s league continues to grow.
Hockey dad Kirk Hansen said local junior hockey programs could also grow if they had a mid-valley location for practice and games. Hansen estimated the current program could double in size – from 200 to 400 participants – if skaters could use ice in Vail, Edwards and at the new ice rink in Eagle.
Licciardi asked how growing programs in Eagle and Edwards might help balance the books at Dobson. Board chairwoman Julie Hanson said growing the programs would put more games, and, ultimately, more paying customers, at the rinks at both ends of the valley.
Moving the bubble might be difficult, though. The bubble belongs to Vail, which would have to agree to sell or lease the structure. If the bubble was sold, the question then is what entity would operate it?
Chris Williams, board president of the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, said that board has had discussions about the bubble. The feeling on the board, he said, is that the district could afford to operate a facility, but not buy it.
“The other question is if it makes sense to buy it as old as it is,” said Williams. “Should we be thinking about a different structure there?”
Jade Kersey of Vail Junior Hockey said his group doesn’t now have the resources to even try to buy the bubble. But, he added, the group is looking into options to expand the program.
“”We happy with what the recreation district and the town have done the past couple of years,” said Kersey. “I just hope whatever happens, we’ll be able to use the bubble somewhere next year.”