Ice rink subject of passionate public comment, debate during City Council meeting

Dallin Staheli addresses the Cedar City Council regarding ice rink, Cedar City, March 4, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Dozens of community members attended a Wednesday work meeting of the Cedar City Council to express their thoughts regarding the termination of the lease for The Glacier ice rink at the Cedar City Aquatic Center.

Community youth playing hockey at The Glacier in Cedar City, Feb 22, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St George News / Cedar City News

In July 2019, the City Council voted to use the rink’s current location for a multipurpose facility, which they say was part of the Aquatic Center’s original plans. This was followed in September by an offer from the city to financially assist Staheli Recreation Management with moving and reestablishing The Glacier in a new location. Such a project would have cost an estimated $5.7 million, and the Stahelis asked the city to contribute roughly half that amount, or $2.85 million.

The city offered to contribute a lump sum to help the project get started and then reach the $2.85 million through yearly payments for operation costs and utilities. However, in January, Dallin Staheli of Staheli Recreation Management drafted a letter which he presented to the council stating the organization did not find it feasible to move the ice rink to a new location.

On Tuesday of this week, Staheli received 30-day notice of the city’s intent to terminate its lease with Staheli Rec. Management. The letter cited the city’s plans to move forward with construction of the multipurpose center in the northeast corner of the Aquatic Center.

The popular facility used by hockey players and skaters of all ages saw its last day of operation at the end of the season on Feb. 29.

During the meeting on Wednesday, Cedar City Financial Director Jason Norris provided the council with an update on revisions to the city’s yearly budget, during which questions were raised from those in attendance regarding the ice rink.

City Manager Paul Bittmenn provided an explanation as to the history of the Aquatic Center and the ice rink.

He said the Aquatic Center was built in 2008 with a $7 million bond and an understanding that the facility would eventually be expanded. Shortly after the center opened in 2011, he said, the city was approached by organizers of the ice rink to request the use of the northeast corner, which was granted, but that the city is now moving forward with its original plans for expansion.

“We entered a series of contracts,” Bittmenn said. “Each of these contracts, whether they were with YETI (previous operators of the rink) or Staheli Rec. Management, have two provisions in them. One says, ‘This is a seasonal temporary location for the ice rink.'”

Bittmenn said the other provision was that the location of the ice rink had been previously designated by the city for “the expansion of the rec center for use for whatever programming the city was going to put in there.”

“Everybody was on notice from the beginning of when we started these temporary agreements,” he said.

The Cedar City Council Chambers were completely full, with community members lined up against walls and spilling out into the hallway, as the future of The Glacier ice rink was discussed, Cedar City, March 4, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

Councilman Scott Phillips voiced his agreement regarding the expansion.

“It was always the intent in the aquatic center discussions to eventually build some kind of a multi-activity center on that building where currently the ice rink is located,” Phillips said, adding that when the council discussed the funding to assist with relocation of The Glacier, part of the proposal was to still move ahead with the multipurpose facility.

“We wanted both of them to happen.”

Local resident John Crosier said he reached out to the president of the Vegas Golden Knights.

“I reached out to him today after I found today about the potential closing of this rink,” Crosier said. “He wants the opportunity to – and I’m asking you to seriously consider this – he’s willing to look at being a partner with you to put a permanent facility here in Cedar City.”

Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards allowed for public comment during the budget portion of the meeting but asked that people reserve their questions specifically about the rink until after the presentation from Staheli.

During his report, Staheli presented some of the key statistics from the past three winters of operation, including the numbers of season passes sold, private lessons, youth and adult hockey participants and private rentals.

Staheli said the overall admission numbers grew from approximately 14,500 in 2017 to almost 15,500 in 2019.

During his presentation, Staheli was complimentary of the people who coached and offered classes at the rink.

“These guys did a great job, and something that’s never happened in Cedar City really blossomed this year and that’s figure skating.”

Staheli became emotional after the presentation, his voice cracking as he said he would gladly walk away from it all if the rink could somehow stay.

Community youth playing hockey at The Glacier in Cedar City, Feb 22, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St George News / Cedar City News

“This is not about me,” he said. “I don’t need one cent from an ice rink … but we need one. You have no idea how much heart goes into this. … Twelve years ago you said so many people showed up, its because they were losing their pool. Right now we’re losing our ice rink – that’s why we’re here.”

Wilson-Edwards asked Staheli about his January letter, wondering why there was no discussion between the management organization and the city before he brought it to the council.

She said she was “shocked that day because I thought we were at least moving forward.”

“Why didn’t we sit down and talk again if there were these problems?” she asked.

Staheli said he felt the discussion and negotiations went too far in the wrong direction.

“We talked a lot before that contract came to the council,” he said. “The council knew that we couldn’t accept the contract, and the council still approved it. We felt like our relationship had been very stressed, so we asked representatives of ours to reach out to some council members … and didn’t receive a hopeful indication that things were going to change.”

The mayor would later go on to say the city also felt like they had “the rug pulled out from under us” regarding the January letter, to which Staheli’s father and owner of Staheli West, Dave Staheli, said that while they knew the project would be at the mercy of the city, some people might presume it was the Stahelis backing out of the deal.

In reality, he said, the city knew full well the Stahelis would reject the proposal that was voted on.

“There were a number of a very serious problems with the agreement that did put a lot of financial risk on us individually,” Dave Staheli said. “Before the vote was taken, we clearly, clearly, made a statement – I personally did – that it was not an acceptable agreement in the form that it was written and that passing it would basically constitute a no vote for the project. … When you made the vote, you knew already what our answer would be.”

Youth members of the community address the Cedar City Council to express support for an ice rink, Cedar City, March 4, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St George News / Cedar City News

Many residents in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting expressed support and appreciation for an ice rink, asked for more time with The Glacier in the current location, offered stories of character-building experiences provided by the rink and even pledged financial assistance to helping maintain an ice rink.

Wilson-Edwards commended everyone at the meeting for their attendance and for showing civility in their comments – something which she said she had been disappointed to see was lacking on Facebook and other social media. She made a renewed call for understanding and support, even when there is disagreement on an issue.

Councilman Tyler Melling proposed looking into the possibility of including a rink in the upcoming expansion project and building it simultaneously with the gyms to save costs.

“I’d like to consider, whether by council vote or ballot or whatever other measure, the possibility of building a rec center that the entire community can get behind,” he said, “and that will especially provide residents, youth, seniors and tourists with critical winter activities, regardless of income, that enhance our quality of life and make Cedar City a better place to live.”

Although no formal action was taken during the work session, the issue is expected to be on the agenda of next week’s action meeting.

Cedar City News reporter JEFF RICHARDS contributed to this report.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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