MANCHESTER — An aldermanic subcommittee voted Tuesday to support a request from the general manager of the SNHU Arena for $1.13 million in capital improvement funding from the city, to ensure the “full and continued operation” of the facility.
Members of the Aldermanic Special Committee on Civic Center were nearly unanimous in their support for the funding request, with only Ward 7’s Bill Shea opposed. The proposal will now be sent to the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen for approval in two weeks.
In a letter to Mayor Joyce Craig, SNHU Arena General Manager Tim Bechert says the money is needed to repair the facility’s ice plant.
“In October 2018, we completed a temporary repair to the arena’s ice plant prior to the start of the hockey season,” writes Bechert. “The repair has kept the integrity of the ice throughout the current hockey season. The permanent repair requires barrel replacement and brine recharge for future ice integrity.”
“It has weakened the system and puts us at some risk,” Bechert told committee members Tuesday. “We have a redundant system, but we have exceeded the life expectancy of the system.”
Bechert writes that a parts and repair order needs to submitted “post haste” to ensure the work is completed by the start of next season.
Alderman Shea said he opposed using capital improvement funding for the project.
“I was never in favor of the way the civic center was being funded,” said Shea. “I was called a naysayer. I forecast at the time that there would be problems, and they have come to fruition. Now we are saying we have a problem, and we have to look to the taxpayers to support it. I will never, ever, support public funding for the civic center.”
“We have a blueprint in our management agreement that very clearly spells out how improvements are paid for, and the capital improvement fund is in that agreement,” said Bechert.
Alderman Keith Hirschmann asked if there was any way to guarantee the city and the arena wouldn’t be in the same situation five years from now. Bechert said he could not, because the arena is 18 years old and “like a house.”
“You’re always making improvements to your house,” said Bechert.
“This list is needs, not wants,” said Alderman At Large Dan O’Neil. “There’s a lot at stake with this chiller system.”
The request comes amid uncertainty regarding future ownership of the current resident hockey team at the facility, the Manchester Monarchs.
The Monarchs ranked next to the bottom in league attendance for the 2018-2019 regular season.
The team announced in January it was up for sale less than three years after being purchased by its current owners.
The Monarchs averaged 4,622 fans per game during their first year in the ECHL in 2015-16. Brian Cheek, CEO of the Monarchs, and his ownership group bought the team in 2016.
Through April 4, the team averaged 2,409 per game this season, roughly 2,000 less than the league average of 4,398 and 48 percent fewer than during the last season before the current owners bought the Monarchs.
When the Monarchs were part of the American Hockey League, the team drew 9,141 fans per game during the 2003-04 season, tops in the league.
In his letter to Craig requesting funding, Bechert points out the arena already has ice-related events confirmed for 2019-2020, including Cirque du Soleil Crystal, Disney On Ice, NHIAA high school hockey championships, and CHaD Battle of the Badges.
“Regardless of the potential sale of the hockey team, a change of ownership, multiple years remain on our hockey team contract, ensuring hockey in Manchester,” writes Bechert.
Pollstar ranked SNHU Arena as the third highest in ticket sales among U.S. arenas with fewer than 15,000 seats during the November-January quarter, but those numbers excluded arena sports tenants. Sold-out concerts included the Dave Matthews Band, Chris Young and Panic! At The Disco.