PLAN LAYS OUT STRATEGY FOR OVAL - TASK FORCE HOPING TO AT LEAST REDUCE THE CITY'S SUBSIDY
STEVE SCOTT, Pioneer Press
June 12, 2005

A long-range plan to cut financial losses at the John Rose Minnesota Oval will be presented Monday to the Roseville City Council in an attempt to continue operations on the world-class outdoor ice sheet.

The speed-skating, hockey and bandy facility costs $1 million a year to operate, requiring a $100,000 annual subsidy from the city of Roseville.Some residents think the city shouldn't bear the entire burden of a venue that attracts regional participation and world championships. A task force outlined a plan to make up at least $60,000 of the deficit in what it calls a "conservative projection." The rest would be considered a "city contribution to the public good."

It also outlines an "optimistic projection," which the task force report says could more than erase the deficit.

"I think the conservative projections are just that," City Council Member Dean Maschka said Thursday at the 10th meeting held by the 18-member task force since March. "I think we can raise a lot more money than that."

The task force recommendation calls for a 20 percent increase in user fees from speed-skating, hockey and bandy groups that regularly play at the Oval. That would net an estimated $25,000 a year in extra revenue.

"The user groups have all indicated they would be willing to increase their fees," said Bill Cushman, president of the Midway Skating Club. Each of the user groups was represented on the task force.

The plan also calls for an increase in the public skating fee from $4 to $5, which would raise an estimated $12,500 a year.

Other portions of the conservative deficit-reduction plan include a special season-opening event, improvements to adjacent banquet facilities, and contributions from the Friends of the Oval and the Roseville Visitors Association.

That still leaves $40,000 that would be classified a "city contribution," which troubled task force member Bob Wilmus.

"I'm concerned we're presenting a hard-dollar assessment that we've reached $100,000, and I think we're short of that," he said.

The task force's optimistic projection includes more civic contributions and banquet-facility improvements, and creating special Oval events such as theme nights or sponsor nights. That plan projects an additional $136,500 a year, which would amount to $176,500, assuming the same city contribution, according to the report.

The City Council will get its first reading of the report Monday night, and action is expected at the June 20 council meeting.

The Oval's future was called into question last year when a leaking chiller system prevented artificial ice on the 110,000-square-foot rink.

The Oval operated with natural ice last winter, but user groups say that shortens the season and threatens cancellation of the world-championship events routinely held there.

Separately, the City Council on June 20 is expected to consider final approval on a chiller repair contract that would allow regular operations this winter. But some council members have been reluctant to commit to that expensive repair until the task force completed its long-term recommendations.

"I think if you had certain inclinations about the Oval before, you're going to keep them after this report," task force chairman Jake Jacobson told the group Thursday night. "But now we have some good hard figures."

The task force also recommended budgeting an additional $150,000 a year for Oval capitalization and depreciation, which would cover future costs such as repairs and improvements.

It outlined possible ways of creating a $3 million fund that would cover that $150,000 annually for 20 years.

Those methods include participation in the state bonding bill in 2006, a possible regional or local sales tax, corporate sponsorship, personal donations and establishing an endowment.

The Oval, which Roseville opened in 1993, has in recent years been host to the U.S. Bandy Tournament, the National Long-Track Speedskating Meet and the World Junior Speedskating Championships.

It is considered one of five Olympic-quality speed-skating venues in the United States, along with West Allis, Wis.; Salt Lake City; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Butte, Mont.

JOHN ROSE OVAL
According to a task force studying the ice sheet's future:

-- The Oval, part of the Roseville Skating Center, gets about 100,000 visits a year. About 60 percent are non-Roseville residents. The entire center, which includes an indoor ice arena and banquet facility, attracts 250,000 visitors a year.
-- A Roseville resident's estimated tax burden for the Oval is $5 a year on a home valued at $175,000.
-- Apart from the task force's work, 1,200 signers of an online petition have asked the state of Minnesota to intervene and address the Oval's immediate financial issues.

Steve Scott may be reached at sscott@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5526.

2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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