Lewiston port gives rink a rent break

Officials drop lease rate from $26,700 to $16,800 annually to help business weather its no-ice season

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Lewis Clark Ice Arena is getting a break from the Port of Lewiston as it tries to drum up more business in the months when it has no ice.

Port officials are dropping the lease rate for the business from $26,700 annually to $16,800.

“It serves a recreational purpose,” said David Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston about the decision. “It’s an outlet for kids in the valley to ice skate and play hockey.”

It also brings business to the region aside from the fees customers pay to skate, said Bill Sugden, the rink’s owner. The arena hosts tournaments for adults and children from outside the area.

And participants spend $80,000 annually at hotels and restaurants and even more at stores, Sugden said.

The rink makes a profit from September through April, the months when it has ice, but so far the business hasn’t been able to attract as many customers as it would like to roller skate, roller blade or play paintless paintball in the summer, Sugden said.

“The off-season is what causes us to struggle. It’s really tough to get people to go indoors in the summertime around here.”

Keeping the ice in place over the summer isn’t an option because it freezes the ground underneath it so hard that it causes damage. Installing equipment to prevent that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Sugden said.

The venture has been more challenging than Sugden believed it would be. He had hoped to have the loan for the ice-making equipment paid in seven years. Instead he’s two years into a 20-year loan.

He’d like to grow by adding a figure skating coach, but so far his attempts to find one who’s been consistent haven’t been successful. And unlike his hockey coaches, figure skating coaches usually want to be paid.

He’s also considered turning the business into a not-for-profit so people would be more likely to make donations. The time he has to develop the business strategy is limited. The rink is a sideline Sugden does in addition to repairs for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles and building hulls for boat companies.

What has kept him going since the rink opened in 2004 is the success he and the rink’s volunteer coaches have had with the more than 100 people who participate in hockey and who skate for fun.

“We compete and win against programs that have been in place for 25 years,” Sugden said.

What’s even more rewarding has been working with the kids who embrace hockey after trying and failing in other organized sports, Sugden said.

“They’re going to go on and become good community members because for some reason they’re learning people skills they haven’t be able to learn elsewhere.”

Williams may be contacted at
[email protected] or (208) 848-2261.