Port, hockey group toward thaw on ice rink issue

By RALPH BARTHOLDT of the Tribune

There was no hooking or high sticking at Wednesday’s meeting of the hockey association and the Lewiston Port Commission.

The meeting was less a face-off than a foot forward as members of the Lewis-Clark Amateur Hockey Association got a chance to present to the Port of Lewiston their plans for use of the indoor ice skating rink housed in a facility owned by the port.

The port announced earlier this month that another tenant was interested in leasing the 1,500-square-foot facility, which the association has rented at a subsidized rate for the past three years. The news could result in the eviction of the hockey association, which operates the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley’s only ice skating rink.

Joleen Carper, the hockey association’s registrar, conceded to the sweet deal the port has afforded the association and thanked port commissioners for their support and patience.

“We realize it hasn’t always been completely smooth, but we believe it’s getting better through the years,” Carper said.

The hockey association’s mission of economic growth, supporting local businesses and improving quality of life was in line with the port’s, she said. In addition to a 27 percent increase in youth hockey players – from 67 to 85 in the past three years – and a 61 percent increase in public skaters to 5,228 so far in the 2013-2014 season, Carper said the association’s hockey tournaments bring 100 visitors to the valley each weekend during the hockey season. That adds up to revenue for local businesses and the association, she said.

When the group took over the LC Ice Arena in 2011, Carper said the operation lacked focus.

“Our first year, it was pretty unstable,” she said.

By the following year, membership increased and the group adopted a business model that resulted in revenues that increased by 66 percent this year. The increased revenues were re-invested in capital improvements, she said.

She asked the commission to commit to a new, three-year lease that would include a 45 percent annual rate increase until the hockey association pays $4,268 per month by June 2016. The amount is the fair market value for the space by today’s standards, she said.

The meeting, which lasted almost two hours and was attended by 75 people, wasn’t all nuts and bolts. More than a dozen people testified to the importance of the ice rink for families in the valley and surrounding area.

Lisa Loughran, whose 15-year-old daughter is an international figure skater and a two-time U.S. Figure Skating Association gold medalist, said she moved to the valley a year ago because of the ice skating rink.

“I would not have moved to this valley had there not been an ice arena,” she said.

Warren Ellison, 60, of Clarkston, grew up playing hockey in Canada and watched small-town players join professional teams.

“This is something with a small beginning,” he said. “It has tremendous opportunity to grow.”

After listening to more than an hour of testimony, Port of Lewiston commissioners said deciding the future of the facility would require further review.

“Each and every one of you came out and promoted something you really believe in,” said Port Commission President Mary Hasenoehrl. “That means a lot to me.”

Commissioner Mike Thomason said he came to the meeting leaning toward a decision.

“Sometimes it’s easy to make a decision based on numbers,” Thomason said. “These people have invested heart and passion and dedication. That adds more texture to the decision.”

Bartholdt can be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2275.