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Ice rink in the black

October 20, 2005

Hearing that the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex is on track to post a $20,000 surplus in the current fiscal year is a bit like hearing that the Chicago Cubs have secured a berth in baseball's World Series.

Both are possible, but we would have bet against either becoming a reality anytime soon.

Our thanks to the Washington County Sports Foundation, which is responsible for daily operations, for getting the facility into the black.

Building an ice rink was proposed in April 1996 by a group headed by Walter E. Dill Sr., a Hagerstown businessman.

By November, the City Council had voted 4-0 to use $1.2 million of a $3.9 million general-obligation bonds to assist in paying for the rink.

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But after a quick start, accompanied by so much optimism that Dill said demand might force construction of a second rink, financial problems began.

In July 1997, the council voted in favor of a 20-year lease under which the rink's board would pay $9,950 a month for 20 years.

But in its first two months of operation, the rink didn't even break even. In November of 1997 it was revealed that rink had lost $19,000 in its first two months of operation.

For most of its existence the rink has required an annual city subsidy of more than $100,000, Unless that arrangement in terminated by the City Council, that will probably be necessary until 2012, when the $1.2 million construction loan is paid off.

The turnaround began last fall, when the City Council make a new agreement with the foundation. In exchange for the city spending more money, the foundation agreed to more financial oversight by city officials.

It would nice to see the ice rink succeed financially, because it provides an additional recreational opportunity for local residents.

Success would also deprive opponents of anything new of the argument that the project in question was destined to become become "another ice rink."

After nine years, have they finally gotten this one right? Stay tuned.

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