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Firm hired to manage ice rink

February 27, 1998

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

A management firm headed by a nationally known expert has signed on to manage the Hagerstown ice rink for five years, the chairman of the Washington County Sports Foundation said Thursday.

JRV Management Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., will take over management of the $2.3 million Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds on Sunday, said foundation Chairman William M. Breichner.

JRV will be paid $54,000 a year or 7 percent of gross revenues, whichever is higher, Breichner said.

To exceed $54,000 a year, gross revenues would have to be $772,000 a year.

Annual gross revenues are on a pace to be about $500,000, said Al Martin, finance director for the city of Hagerstown.

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"Quite frankly, we need to do better than that," Martin said.

Martin and other city staff members have been assisting the foundation because the city owns the rink. The nonprofit foundation operates the rink.

Breichner said foundation officials would prefer to pay JRV the 7 percent because that would mean the rink was making more money.

JRV manages six other ice arenas, including the Monroe Multi-Sports Complex in Monroe, Mich.

Jack R. Vivian, JVR president, founded the Sport Facilities Research Laboratory in 1989 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said Robb Dunn, project administrator.

Vivian also established the School of Ice Arena Management at the university in 1996, Dunn said.

Closer to home, Cumberland Valley on Ice hired Vivian to conduct a feasibility study for the group's Olympic-size ice rink, said Jeff Rock, an original board member for the in Zullinger, Pa., group.

Vivian also conducted a feasibility study for the YMCA ice rink in Cumberland, Md., and helped design it.

Foundation board members realize it is more expensive to hire a management firm instead of an individual manager, but a firm offers expertise in a variety of areas, Breichner said.

The rink has experienced financial and managerial difficulties since it opened on Aug. 15, 1997.

The city three times has extended the sports foundation's deadline for repayment of a $75,000 line of credit. Foundation officials have said they needed the extensions to give them time to organize financial records and to prepare to ask banks for a loan of about $500,000.

"This isn't the first time I've walked in on this type of situation ... For every problem there is an opportunity as far as I'm concerned," said Vivian.

"We just hope that people will give us a chance to demonstrate our ability rather than dwell on the past," Vivian said.

Walter Dill, who spearheaded the drive to build the rink and was the rink's first executive director, resigned on Oct. 15. In resigning, Dill said he did not "need to get beat up" by his critics after an ouster attempt by some board members last August.

"I think we can make a positive contribution here. We see potential," Vivian said.

Vivian plans to make what he calls minor renovations at the rink. He said the renovations will pay for themselves in the first year.

The skating equipment rental area will be moved into the pro shop, saving on staff, improving efficiency and attracting more customers to the pro shop, Vivian said.

The rental area will be converted to office space, he said.

The renovations are expected to cost less than $10,000, he said.

More locker rooms with showers are expected to be available by September, said Amy Simmons, who will be the rink's on-site general manager.

Simmons will be one of two full-time people added to the staff for now because the rink's off-season is coming up, Vivian said.

As the next season nears in September the rink could have five to seven full-time employees and some part-time workers, he said.

Vivian said he expects to keep the 22 paid part-time workers at the rink now, but their duties might change. The full-time staff will include Carl Langford, who ran the rink after interim manager Michael Griffith left on Jan. 13 to take a job in Southern Maryland, he said. Griffith's annual salary would have been around $32,000.

The rink will host summer hockey and skating schools, Vivian said.

"This will be the coolest place in town all summer long. People will flock to this place in the hot days in the summertime," Vivian said.

In addition to having staff on site, JRV will offer assistance in marketing from the home office in Michigan, he said.

The benefits of a management firm include being able to buy supplies cheaper because the firm, which manages six other arenas in the country and has a seventh opening this spring, can buy in bulk, Vivian said.

Vivian said he realizes the ice complex is important to youths and the local economy.

Ice hockey teams will come to Hagerstown from around the country, spending money on food and gas, he said.

The complex could have a $1 million annual economic impact on the community, he said. When it reaches its potential it could have the same economic impact as a small manufacturing firm, he said.

Ice rinks near Zullinger, Pa., and in Frederick, Md., can help the Hagerstown rink, Vivian said. "I'm not afraid of competition at all. I think competition is healthy."

Vivian said he wants to start high school and church ice hockey teams for men and women.

"We're right on the threshold of the most popular era of skating and hockey in the U.S.," he said.

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