Hobbs Ice Center 2013 subsidy could increase
Eau Claire city officials have requested an increased tax subsidy for Hobbs Ice Center for next year in the midst of price hikes and decreasing use at the arena.
City Council Vice President David Duax said city Finance Director Rebecca Noland and Parks and Recreation Director Phil Fieber recommended the increase.
City Council President Kerry Kincaid said the proposed 2013 budget includes $135,000 of the city’s room tax dollars going to Hobbs for both capital and operating expenses. Kincaid said Hobbs officials plan to renovate the Center’s locker rooms with some of those room tax dollars.
UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey coach Matthew Loen said that Hobbs has been a big draw for the city and should be helped out if possible.
“We attracted 400 hockey players to come to Hobbs and skate this summer,” Loen said. “I think that’s the big picture that people don’t understand, that we are giving an opportunity for people to play hockey.”
Hobbs is the home ice for Eau Claire men’s and women’s hockey teams as well as the Eau Claire club hockey team and various youth teams in the city. It is the only covered rink in the city, which first-year Club Hockey President Dan Michaelson said limits the club’s venue options.
“It’s kind of a trap market, and that’s hockey for you,” said Michaelson, a Minnesota native who said cities smaller than Eau Claire in his home state have several ice rinks available for hockey.
Duax also said there was a push a few years ago to build a private ice rink, but those plans ultimately fell through.
Both Loen and Michaelson said rental rates have gone up in the past few years. Loen estimated his team paid $155 an hour for practices and $500 for a game this past season. He also said he expects at least the hourly rate to increase.
This increased cost has been coupled with what Duax said has been decreased usage of the rink. Duax said clubs have complained about Hobbs in the past, but not as much recently.
The hockey club is in its third full year as a recognized Eau Claire club, the first of which was served on a probationary basis. Michaelson said that, as a freshman during the club’s first year, he paid $300 to join the team. The rates have since increased to $625 for this season, which Michaelson said goes to a combination of road lodging, coach payments and ice rink rentals.
Even with the rising costs, Michaelson said he does not expect Hobbs to become cost-prohibitive for the club in the near future.
Hobbs was renovated in 2008 and the city supported the project. Duax said former Eau Claire Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich was a large proponent of the renovation and promised certain financial contributions from the university to Hobbs.
Duax said these financial goals, among many others agreed to during the 2008 debate, have yet to be met.
“I think people are of two minds,” Duax said of his city council colleagues. “I think a lot of them agree in principle that (the subsidy should not be increased), but they’re also willing to make exceptions.
“I just happen to feel that we can’t just continue to expect that we’re going to continue to increase the subsidy.”
Despite the drop in usage and rising costs, Kincaid said Hobbs would be given $47,000 more dollars in next year’s proposed budget than they were given this year.
Kincaid said many of the funds raised by the university for the renovation project, which she said totaled more than $1.2 million, have dried up and that the council is wary of continuing to raise its financial commitment.
“The city can’t compel people to keep giving to things,” Kincaid said.
The city council will finalize Eau Claire’s 2013 budget, including the size of the subsidy to Hobbs, on Nov. 7.