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Officials weigh selling ice rink

December 10, 1998

Hagerstown Ice & Sports ComplexBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




City officials said they might consider selling the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex if the skating rink's financial picture does not improve over the winter.

A group of investors has offered to buy the financially troubled rink. The group includes Walter Dill, a former executive director at the rink who spearheaded its construction and now is suing the nonprofit Washington County Sports Foundation that operates it.

The mayor and City Council decided behind closed doors on Tuesday not to accept a $1.8 million offer for the $2.3 million rink at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds.

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Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he and the council will wait until March, when the rink's busy season has ended, to consider whether to sell the rink.

At that time, city officials also will look at other options to improve the rink's operation, such as changing management.

Should the council decide to sell the rink, bids will be solicited, city officials said.

"I understand that it's a project that was done for community betterment and I understand that the city subsidizes the pool, the golf course. Do I think that the private sector could do a better job with the ice rink? Yes. I think it should be looked at very hard," Bruchey said.

Dill said he and six co-investors believe they could run the rink successfully as a for-profit business.

"If they said 'no,' then they're just going to continuously go into debt," said Dill, who also is considering buying a privately owned ice rink in Frederick, Md., that filed for bankruptcy.

Dill said he thinks he can save the Hagerstown rink.

"I'm not saying I would run the rink, but I think the organization could do it," Dill said. Dill resigned as executive director in October 1997 after a barrage of criticism.

Foundation board member and Councilman William M. Breichner said if Dill can run the rink successfully, so can the city.

"That's rather foolish to say a private entrepreneur can do a better job," Breichner said.

"I didn't study the offer in detail. It was sort of bizarre to suddenly have this come up, with the lawsuit," Breichner said.

On July 11, Dill filed a civil suit in Washington County Circuit Court seeking $2.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the foundation.

Before city officials could sell the rink, City Finance Director Al Martin said they would have to determine whether doing so would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the $1.2 million in bonds the city issued to build it. He also would have to check on the legalities of a sale, since the land was bought with government grants.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he prefers the rink remain a public-private partnership with the foundation.

"I really don't consider what we got as a real bonafide, viable offer. It came on a piece of stationery with no address, no telephone numbers," Boyer said.

While the rink is experiencing financial troubles now, foundation Chairman Gary Wright said he expects the foundation to be in the black by the year 2001.

Wright said he thinks that over the winter the foundation will be able to pay part of the $54,470 in overdue rent and the entire $34,800 in overdue utility and management bills.

Foundation officials soon will enter into contract negotiations with its management firm, JRV Management. The contract expires March 1, he said.

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