Supporters of building an indoor ice arena complex at Eastern Hills Mall are trying to keep their dream alive.
The nonprofit Clarence Community Recreation Corp. and the mall’s owner, Mountain Development Corp., hope to create a two-rink arena on land behind the mall, between J.C. Penney and the Dipson movie theater.
Mountain Development remains committed to donating land for the arena, said Charles Breidenbach, managing director of the New Jersey-based company’s retail properties group. And the corporation says the project would provide more ice time closer to home for area residents and benefit the region economically.
But proponents still need to finalize the project’s price range, see if the financial targets are achievable and determine whether they could find a private lender who is receptive.
John Thur, president of the corporation and the Clarence Mustangs youth hockey organization, said it is too soon to say whether everything will come together. “We’re getting to that point in the next few months where we’ll know whether it’s a go or a no-go,” he said.
While an ice arena at the mall has been discussed for some time, talk of the town government possibly partnering on the project has fizzled.
The corporation previously presented a plan under which the town would build the facility – estimated at $8 million at the time – through a 25-year bond agreement. The corporation proposed operating the complex and using funds generated from those operations to cover the bond payments.
In 2011, the town collected proposals from 13 architectural and engineering firms as it considered whether to get involved. Nothing publicly emerged from that process., and the November 2011 election led to a change in town supervisor. The arena topic has rarely come up at Town Board meetings over the past year, but backers have continued to work on the idea.
Thur said organizers are awaiting results of engineering research to determine if the project would fall within a price range they would be comfortable with; he declined to quantify that range. But if the estimate falls within the range, or if the project can be adjusted to reach that range, organizers will approach private lenders, he said.
“There will be a fundraising component to this, as well,” Thur said. And organizers will have to determine whether they could raise the amount necessary.
“There’s still a need for capital, and I think we’re all very understanding of that,” Breidenbach said.
The arena complex, which would be connected to the mall, presumably would create more customers for mall tenants. Breidenbach said the arena would also enhance the mall’s role as a community gathering place.
Supporters say an ice arena in Clarence would reduce travel time to rinks for area residents and allow for youth programs to be expanded. They also envision an arena generating more spending on hotel rooms, restaurants and shopping from tournament visitors.
But some residents have opposed the idea of the town partnering on such a project. The Clarence Tax Payers group says the town “should not be involved in funding, building or running sports complexes.”
“That being said, we have no problem with an effort to build and run the ice arena with private funding,” said Marlese Wacek, a representative of the group. “A private venture will contribute to Clarence’s tax base, rather than rely on it.”
A privately funded ice arena complex at the mall would still have to obtain town government approvals, just as other projects do. Working with a private lender would mean higher borrowing costs than bonding the project through the town. But at the same time, proponents would not have to face opposition to the town acting as a partner, or winning voter support if a referendum were held. Town Supervisor David C. Hartzell Jr. said he likes the approach the mall owner and CCRC are pursuing, saying it would benefit the town and its residents.
“I think the prospects right now are excellent that you’ll see a hockey rink at Eastern Hills built, funded and bonded by Mountain Development, and not paid for by the taxpayers of the Town of Clarence,” he said.