City will have electricity meter installed in CSC concession stand

    As the Crookston City Council looks to cut into a projected $750,000 deficit at Crookston Sports Center this year, everyone agrees that haggling with the Crookston Blue Line Club over a few thousand dollars in utility costs at the CSC's concession stand, run by the BLC with volunteer labor, isn't something to become overly preoccupied with.   

    But, everyone also agrees, changing the city's concessions contract with the BLC so that the hockey booster club can more easily collaborate with other "partners" at the CSC, such as the Crookston Figure Skating Club, is essential, especially if everyone's goal of boosting revenue generated by the facility by adding ice and non-ice events to the calendar is to be achieved.   

    But, as long as the contractual language is being changed, the council wants to make sure it's not paying unnecessary utility costs in the concessions stand, and is asking the BLC to cover those costs.   

    After a recent discussion between the council and BLC representatives, in which the council said it wanted to do away with the city's 30 percent concessions take on the BLC's "net income" from concessions – around $87,500 last year – with a percentage of "gross sales" instead, the BLC offered to give the city 6 percent of the gross sales.   

    At a council Ways & Means Committee meeting this week, City Administrator Shannon Stassen suggested that the council agree to the BLC's offer. "It seems pretty firm from them," he said. "It's my opinion that if we counter-offer again we're going to end up with a concession stand."   

    Council members agreed the city doesn't want to operate the concession stand. "I hate to take any kind of loss on this, even if it's only a couple thousand, but I don't see any role for the city to run it," Ward 3 Council Member Gary Willhite said. "That's not a direction I am even suggesting."   

    But, in the end, the committee, while agreeing to the 6 percent, approved a one-year contract with the BLC, not one that's three years in duration like the previous one.   

    That's because, after talking about it off and on for some time, the city is going to spend around $1,500 to have a electricity-use meter installed to specifically track the electricity bill in the concession stand. The city has previously estimated the annual electricity cost in the stand to be around $8,500, and the BLC has countered that the bill is less. The meter will provide some much-needed clarity on the matter, Mayor Dave Genereux said.   

    "Let's put the meter in, do a one-year contract, see how the utility numbers shake out after the upcoming season, and then sit down with the Blue Line Club again" the mayor said. "That way, no one thinks we're just throwing a number out there."   

    At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud stressed that as the city continues to negotiate a couple thousand dollars in utility costs with the BLC, the council needs to realize how much money the BLC funnels into the youth hockey program. "Are we going to fully take into account the tons of money they put into the program?" he said. "What would we do if they walked away?"   

    At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye said he understands the critical role the BLC plays, but he said his primary concern is the four months that the BLC rents the Blue Arena ice during the off-season – September, and April through June – and the impact on the CSC's expense ledger. It costs more to pay for the ice than the BLC pays, he said, and, he added, people need to realize that it costs money 24 hours a day, seven days as week even if a tournament is only held for 20 hours on a weekend.   

    "At the old arena, the lights and everything were basically shut off from April to October; we need to address the concession issue first and then probably the price for the additional ice," Melbye said.    

    City Administrator Shannon Stassen stressed that the projected $750,000 deficit in 2014 is already being addressed, with the temporary CSC worker budget already reduced significantly. And, he added, the Gold Arena ice season will be reduced during the 2014-15 hockey and skating season to meet a UMC request for more turf time. UMC pays $50,000 a year to use the CSC.   

    "We are making operational changes right now to address the current budget situation," Stassen said.   

    At the old Civic/Sports arenas downtown, the biggest deficit covered by the city was in the $400,000 range. Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said he'd like to see that the be the target with the CSC as well.    

    It will shrink on its own in 2016, when the city makes the last $158,000 debt service payment on the $2 million in new market tax credits that enhanced the CSC's construction budget. There's also $500,000 in an escrow account required as part of the CSC project that will be returned to the city in 2016, to be utilized as the council sees fit.   

    Stassen said once the concessions contract is agreed to, the city, BLC and other CSC partners and stakeholders can start looking at the bigger picture: Bringing more "dry-land" activities to the facility, which, he said, are cheaper to carry out that on-ice activities. "A lot of good work was done by the CSC marketing task force last year and we need to move on some things, some concerts, trade shows or whatever," Stassen said. "There's some could hit it big or take a loss. But we'll never even get to try if we don't come to an agreement on this first step, concessions."