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New era looms for West Side Ice Arena

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 20. 2014 11:16PM
Bruins alumni Frank Simonetti with Issac Nicholson at the West Side Arena last month. Youth hockey supporters are involved in an effort to assume operation of the facility and make improvements. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — A newly formed company wants to take over the operation of the city's West Side Ice Arena with an eye toward transforming it into a multi-use recreational complex.

The proposal is a partnership between local businesspeople and the Manchester Regional Youth Hockey Association, which currently runs its league at the arena, located off Pinard Street.

The group is doing business as Renaissance Park LLC, which registered with the state in November. Its lead manager is John Hebert, who did not return a call for comment on Monday.

The aldermen's Committee on Land and Buildings will consider the proposal at its meeting today.

In a letter to the committee, Hebert wrote that the company is interested in a "comprehensive, multi-phased, and long-term plan to assume operational control of, and improvement to, the West Side Arena and potential adjacent properties."

The letter does not offer financial details on the company's proposal, but states that the arrangement with the city would be on "mutually agreeable and beneficial terms" and would "honor and advance the strategic and long-range plans for economic and civic development in the city."

The West Side arena, completed in 1974, is run by the Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries Division. In addition to hosting the youth hockey association and other private leagues, it's used by Manchester High School West and Merrimack High School.Mayor Ted Gatsas said he was interested in getting more details about the proposal. Gatsas first floated the idea of having a "public-private partnership" for the arena in 2010.

Gatsas said on Monday that he would be open to an arrangement along the lines of the McIntyre Ski Area, which since 2009 has been run by a local ski school.

"A public-private partnership makes sense," he said, adding, "I'd look at anything that comes forward."

Steve Tempesta, the president of the Manchester Regional Youth Hockey Association, said the group's involvement in the plan didn't reflect any dissatisfaction with how the city ran the arena. "We have a great relationship with the city. It's just an option to make it bigger and better," Tempesta said. "The idea is to make an area on that side of town with a lot of options for athletes. My belief is it's not just going to be a hockey facility, but a multi-functional facility."

The West Side arena, along with the JFK Memorial Coliseum and the Derryfield Country Club, are run by the parks division as part of its Recreation Fund. The facilities generate their own revenue, which is supposed to fund their budget, although in recent years this hasn't always been the case. The Derryfield has been running significant deficits; the JFK Coliseum and West Side arena have also struggled to cover expenses.

The budget situation for the West Side arena, however, appears to have improved.

For the current fiscal year, expenses are estimated at $327,750, while revenues are projected to be $434,190. The lion's share, $390,325, is coming from the youth leagues, according to the city's 2014 Budget Book.

It's not clear if the city is currently carrying bond debts for the arena. In 2009, the city installed a new roof at the arena at a cost of $400,000.

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