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Revised lease enables City of Batavia to buy time as it considers future of Evans Street ice arena

By Mike Pettinella

It seems as though the City of Batavia is playing somewhat “shorthanded” when it comes to the financial arrangements surrounding the operation of the Batavia Ice Arena on Evans Street.

On Monday night, City Council voted in favor of an extension and modification of its lease agreement with Firland Management, the firm that has managed the rink for more than a decade.

Negotiated changes call for the Virginia-based company to hold off on its lease payment of $25,000 to the city until Jan. 1, 2022, instead of the original due date of March 1 of this year, and also for the reduction of Firland’s contribution to the rink’s capital fund for 2020-21 from $32,958.30 to $5,000.

Additionally, the contract will be extended for two years through March 2023; Firland’s lease payments will be $20,000 annually for 2021-22 and 2022-23; and its capital fund contribution will be $5,000 annually for the next two fiscal years.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said concessions were made because the rink was closed for several months last year, adversely affecting Firland’s bottom line. With the changes, the city has escaped (at least in the near future) the possibility of Firland walking away.

When the resolution came up for a vote toward the end of Council’s Business Meeting, Council Member Rose Mary Christian requested that it be amended to a one-year lease instead of two in order for the city to explore opportunities to find private ownership of the facility.

Her request, however, did not receive a “second” so the original resolution stayed on the table.

Council Member Robert Bialkowski said he understood what Christian was attempting to do, but pointed out that a one-year lease could come back to haunt the city.

“If we have a one-year lease and they have not paid the bulk of the money that was supposed to be paid the second year, we would really come up short on that,” he said. “I think this is the best we can do. We have to support it and that’s it.”

Council Member Paul Viele, a longtime youth hockey enthusiast, said he has observed that “Firland is doing a lot better job than they have in the past.”

“With people like Mr. (Robert) Gray (of the Friends of the Rink organization) helping out and volunteering – good things are coming,” Viele said.

Bialkowski said the only ice rinks making money are the ones backed by wealthy sponsors, and then brought up the naming rights to the rink (formerly known as the Falleti Ice Arena).

“I don’t think $500 should put your name up there for five years. That’s like giving that away,” he said.

Viele said the rink would make money “if you have more than one sheet, and that’s expensive to get another sheet.”

Earlier, during the public comments portion of the session, Gray encouraged Council to vote yes to the amended operating agreement.

The Stafford resident said that under the current lease, Firland had the option to extend the lease for another five years.

“Due to extenuating circumstances caused mainly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the rink was closed from March 17 to September of the last year, both parties agreed to the two-year lease,” he said. “A new section was also added for the first time that dealt with the sale of the facility -- in the event that the city sells the facility or transfers ownership of the facility.”

Gray said that the new lease isn’t perfect, but "it does give requested consideration to Firland for the late payment to someone who has operated the ice rink for the last 14 years. It will allow the rink to be operated for another two years instead of sitting vacant.”

“City Council recently approved the new lease for Dwyer Stadium that was agreeable to both parties. Why wouldn’t you do the same for the Batavia Ice Arena? I think the proposed lease serves both Firland’s interest and the interest of the City of Batavia. The Batavia Ice Arena is a productive community asset.”

He cited a 2018 Creek Park feasibility study that indicated the estimated annual use hours at 1,600, estimated annual attendance at 68,500 and estimated economic output at $2.3 million.

Gray then took a veiled jab at Christian, who previously said the rink (for hockey) was used only by the “elite.”

“These elite people are your neighbors, coworkers and friends, and are found in every ward in the city and almost every village in the county,” Gray said. "Many people also believe that GAHA youth hockey is the only user of the ice rink. This is not true. The Batavia Men’s Hockey League, both high schools, public open skate, figure-skating lessons and pickup hockey all pay to use the ice at the rink. GAHA currently pays $200 for a 50-minute session – that’s four dollars a minute.”

He then commended Council for hiring Tabelski as manager, saying he has met with her twice to implement a program for his organization that would allow volunteers to identify and complete rink improvements at no or low cost to the city.

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