Local ice advocates trying to raise bubble
The bubble may rise for another season at the Vail Golf Course, but a lot has to happen fairly quickly.Responding to the pleas of a full house Tuesday, the Vail Town Council agreed to keep the “ice bubble” in storage for at least another year in order to give skaters time to work out an arrangement to inflate the winter-only facility one more time.The bubble’s fate, which has often been cloudy since it was first erected in January of 2001, appeared to be sealed this spring, when the Vail Recreation District board announced it would not manage the facility for another season, citing operational costs as the reason.In the wake of that announcement, the Vail Town Council was left to ponder the fate of the bubble, which costs about $120,000 to setup and takedown each season, and about $10,000 per year to store. Even a month ago, selling the structure appeared to be the favored option.Tuesday, though, skaters and skate parents prevailed on the council to keep the facility, even in storage. Of course, hockey and skate parents would prefer to see a bubble. To do that, though, they need to prevail on another board.”You’re at the wrong meeting,” Councilman Greg Moffet said to the crowd. A few moments earlier, Moffet had asked for a show of hands from anyone who had been to a recent recreation district meeting. No hands went up.”You need to go to (recreation district) meetings, all the time, en masse,” Moffet said. “You need to work on them.” Cash flow questionsWhile a handful of skaters criticized the district’s management of the bubble and the ice time at Dobson Ice Arena, board members Peter Cook and Scott Proper said the district simply isn’t willing to absorb the losses of operating the bubble.”We ran it last year and did $35,000 in revenue and lost $33,000,” Cook said. “The utilities alone cost us $26,000.”Proper said those losses aren’t fair to either the district itself or the town’s taxpayers. “If it cash flows, great, but in the interim, it hits everybody in the wallet,” he said.
While questioning how the district markets the ice at Dobson, Moffet – who personally supports a second sheet of ice in Vail – said town recreation officials do seem to have statistics on their side. “The evidence states we don’t have enough demand,” Moffet said.The issue of demand was debated by the skate supporters who spoke Tuesday. Hockey mom Louise Funk said special events at Dobson take crucial ice time away from teams. She noted that the National Brotherhood of Skiers convention next winter is scheduled at Dobson the week before the arena hosts a regional hockey tournament.”You’re taking ice time away from local skaters right before a tournament,” she said.To keep kids on the ice, a group made up of hockey and skating supporters has formed a “Committee for Valley Wide Ice,” dedicated to the goal of putting another skating surface somewhere in the area next season.”Our preference is to have it in Vail,” John Tedstrom of the Committee for Valley Wide Ice said. Valleywide iceTedstrom, along with Craig Denton, incoming president of the Vail Junior Hockey Association, asked council members to consider their groups first if they do decide to sell the bubble. While Tedstrom and others said they’d put the bubble just about anywhere they could, Vail resident Merv Lapin said moving the facility out of Vail would be a mistake. Lapin, who played a big role in getting Dobson built and has supported youth hockey programs for years, said the bubble – or some sort of second ice sheet – needs to remain in Vail.”Do we really want to give locals one less reason to come to Vail? I don’t think so,” Lapin said. While criticizing the way the recreation district has run Dobson, Lapin said that facility’s use as a special events center means another sheet of ice is needed for youth and public skating programs that otherwise would have to shut down during conventions and concerts.
“You’ve got to give people a reason to stay and live in Vail,” Lapin said. “Hockey and skating are very popular, and we need facilities.”If a facility besides Dobson is going to be available next season, though, skating interests need to work fast. Mayor Rod Slifer told assembled skate supporters to work with the recreation district and come back to the council with a viable plan no later than September if the bubble is to operate next season.Bubbling alongHere’s a brief history of Vail’s ice bubble: September 2000 – Vail spends $770,000 for a temporary inflatable ice rink cover as a back-up for scheduling strains at Dobson Ice Arena. October 2000 – Golf course neighbors appeal rezoning for the “bubble,” but the Town Council denies the appeal and approves operating it on the Vail Golf Course’s driving range for two winters. Appellants win a temporary injunction, halting installation. A judge lifts the injunction, binding the case over for trial. The town eventually prevails in the case. January 2001 – Bubble opens for the first time, three months behind schedule.
December 2002/January 2003 – Vail Recreation District board members say the bubble is not cost-efficient, say they’ll refuse to pay for the annual set-up and break-down costs, estimated then at $120,000. April 2003 – Council considers selling the bubble. September 2003 – Council allocates $190,OOO to pay for set-up and tear-down costs of the Bubble for the 2003-04 season. Early 2004: Recreation board, citing operating losses, informs town officials it will not manage the bubble for the 2004-05 season. July 6: Town council agrees to keep the bubble in storage for another year, but leaves the door open to setting it up again, if recreation officials and local skaters can work out an agreement for cost-effective management.