Improvements to the Asheville Civic Center’s ice rink will soon become the city’s responsibility — but not before the local hockey team, The Asheville Smoke, buys a new ice cover.
“If it [helps people] keep their tootsies warmer, that’ll be a blessing,” observed Mayor Leni Sitnick during Council’s Sept. 7 work session, after Civic Center Director David Pisha had asked the city to consider amending its lease agreement with Asheville Professional Hockey Ltd. Under the initial terms, the Smoke provided the rink and related equipment; after five years, ownership of the rink would pass to the city. But the city has the option of claiming the rink sooner, if it wishes — which is what Pisha and the team are asking for.
Laying claim to the rink would also obligate the city to take over the team’s $90,000 annual lease payments to the Civic Center for the next four years — but Pisha stressed that this would pose no financial risk to Asheville, because the team would also be conceding its share of revenues from public skating and hockey concessions, which it had been using to cover the lease payments. And besides providing the new ice cover, the Smoke would be required to make up any financial shortfall that the city incurred under the new agreement.
“It looks like a win/win situation to me,” declared Sitnick. Vice Mayor Ed Hay concurred: “If there’s a shortfall and the team makes it up, then it’s a wash for the city. … This is a measure of … how far we have come.” Before winter sports had proved their popularity here, he continued, “We were wondering, ‘Is this going to work at all? Is it going to be a flop?'”
But now that the city knows the answer to that question, Hay pronounced the amended agreement “a good thing … really solid.”
City Manager Jim Westbrook moved that Council adopt the resolution at its next formal session.
Sign of the times
Council also considered several amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance proposed by the city’s Planning and Development Department. Among them is a change in the maximum allowable size of “community identification signs,” which are often used to highlight local landmarks and facilities. The current limit is 16 square feet (the same as for subdivisions and multiple-family residences); but Urban Planner Carl Ownbey recommended increasing it to 24 square feet.
Council Member Earl Cobb commented that the increase might be needed to allow for rockwork or other decoration on such signs, if for no other reason: “It seems to me that if you want to beautify a sign, you should address that in the UDO.”
Council will take further action on the UDO amendments at a Sept. 28 public hearing.
A way out
“It doesn’t sound like we have a choice,” observed Council Member Tommy Sellers about Director of Parks and Recreation Irby Brinson‘s request that the city consider authorizing the city manager to enter into service contracts and purchase agreements needed to address accessibility and safety concerns at the Asheville Civic Center.
All of the changes “center around the idea of escape,” Brinson said dramatically, stressing the tight time line for completing the project (all work required to bring the Civic Center into compliance with state and local codes must be finished by Oct. 15).
The work is expected to cost $122,000; the money would come from the city’s fund balance and from funds previously allocated for upgrading the Civic Center’s elevators.
Council adopted the resolution, with one afterthought from Sitnick, who proposed writing a letter to the county commissioners asking them to help fund the improvements.
“It seems to me that, since both the city and county use the Civic Center, they would be willing to do their part in [meeting] these costs,” she said pointedly.
— compiled by Melanie McGee