Editor's note: This story was originally published November 30, 2005
WASILLA -- Nearing the end of its first full year of operation, the Wasilla Multi-Use Sports Complex is boasting 20 to 50 percent increases in off-ice uses offered at the 102,000 square-foot facility.
That's good news, city leaders say.
Ice use is down by about 20 percent this year, Wasilla recreation and cultural services manager Bruce Urban said last week. It's a sign there are too many ice rinks in a small market, he said. Ice can be rented at three facilities in the Valley this hockey season.
Last year, the Wasilla sports complex was the only facility open in the Valley. Palmer Ice Arena was not yet finished when the hockey season started, and the Brett Memorial Ice Arena in Wasilla was closed for repairs.
More activity at the sports complex turf court, a growing schedule of conferences, trade shows and events and increased demand for meeting rooms is making up for some of the loss in ice rental this year, Urban said.
Wasilla voters agreed in 2002 to a half-percent increase in the city sales tax to pay off a $14.7 million bond to build the multi-use facility. The project "was completed on schedule and under budget," Mayor Dianne Keller said, and the complex opened its doors March 6, 2004.
Sales tax revenue, which can only be used to pay the bond, is coming in faster than expected. Keller said she believes the facility will be paid off at least two years ahead of the 10-year schedule.
The operating cost and revenue picture is less rosy. The complex saw a loss of just over $145,000 in fiscal year 2004, according to a 2005 financial report from the Wasilla finance department. Preliminary numbers show a loss of just over $212,000 in fiscal year 2005. Deputy city finance director Susan Colligan said an auditor must confirm those numbers.
It's tough to make a straight comparison between the two years, Colligan said. The complex only operated four months in fiscal year 2004. Costs were higher in 2005 but so were revenues, she said.
Urban and Keller said they hope to close that gap. City finance director Ted Leonard said the shortfall should be down to $120,000 by June 30, 2006.
"It's on its way to paying for itself. I don't think I can say we have met our goals until there's no longer a subsidy," Keller said. "But I never dreamed we'd have weddings there or that Anchorage attorneys would be coming out and taking depositions in our meeting rooms."
Keller and Urban said the accessory uses of the facility are growing. Turf court use is up 25 percent, Urban said. Large events are up about 40 percent. More people are using the running track around the ice rink, and use of the facility's three conference rooms is up more than 50 percent, he said.
It's the turf court, the only indoor court of its kind in the Valley, that Urban said he believes will help carry the facility.
An adult soccer league that started with six teams last year has grown to nearly 35 teams and around 300 members. An indoor youth recreational soccer league started too, with about 20 teams and 180 members, Urban said. Football and baseball teams also practice there, he said. Home schooling groups use it for physical education classes. Moms stop by with toddlers between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the Turf Time for Tots program, an open playtime for children.
"I really think it's going to be that the turf court is busier than the ice rink," Urban said. "Last Friday the turf court went straight from 5 p.m. to midnight, and the ice was done at 5 p.m."
Keller said a kitchen facility is on schedule for installation next year. Paid for by more than $850,000 in state grants, a kitchen and emergency generators will allow the facility to be used as an emergency shelter. But it will also bring more conferences, Keller said.
Urban said he plans to focus on publicizing the facility. Money to build a sign at the corner of the Parks Highway and South Mack Drive is included in the city's capital budget, Urban said.
"I think that would be money well-spent, that would probably return to us tenfold," Urban said.
Shortfall aside, Urban and Keller are quick to tout the facility's benefit to the business community.
Grandview Inn and Suites general manager Sandra Joynes said her company gets about 20 percent of its business from people using the sports complex. Teams playing the Wasilla Spirit are booked at the Grandview, Joynes said, as part of an agreement with the team. Groups with the state high school wrestling tournament scheduled for Dec. 9-10 have booked nearly every room at the hotel, she said.
Kim Dooley and her family have a much closer revenue tie to the sports complex. Kim, her two sons, Dennis and Dillon, 17 and 12, and her husband, Patrick, run Action Pro Shop, located just inside the entrance of the sports complex. They sell hockey and soccer gear, offer skate sharpening and make espresso.
Kim said her family opened the business because Dennis, a soccer and hockey player, and Dillon, who focuses on hockey, had a tough time finding gear in the Valley. With the new facility opening, Kim said opening the pro shop seemed a natural fit.
Kim works for the state of Alaska and Patrick works on the North Slope, she said, so other employees work at the shop. Kim said she hears a lot of positive comments from people visiting the sports complex when she's in the pro shop. Only a few times, she said, have people complained about anything, mostly the sales tax, she said. She said she doesn't waste time setting them straight.
"I say 'Isn't it awesome to see that your taxes pay for this facility?' " Kim said.
Sports complex by the numbers
Wasilla Multi-Use Sports Complex opened March 6, 2004
Total facility size: 102,000 square feet
Turf court: 20,000 square feet.
Ice sheet: 23,300 square feet, NHL regulation size
Three conference rooms: 1,900 square feet
Construction cost: nearly $14.7 million
Cost to run the facility one month: $17,000-$18,000.
Electrical bill: approximately $10,000 a month.
Gas and utilities: approximately $5,000 a month
Cost to rent ice rink: $1,500 a day, if ice is already removed
Cost to rent turf court: $1,500
Average attendance, according to North America Hockey League, at Wasilla Spirit games: 654, including away games.
Estimated attendance Wasilla Spirit home games this season: 22,000
Number of conferences, tournaments, trade shows and large events scheduled at the arena in fiscal year 2006