File photo by Don Nelson

The Winthrop Rink wants to replace its existing ice resurfacing machine.

Existing machine is 17 years old, has mechanical issues

Going into its third season with an ice-making system, the Winthrop Rink is in need of a new ice-resurfacing machine, rink manager Connor Walsh told the Winthrop Town Council last week.

Walsh was making the case for purchase of a replacement for the existing ice resurfacer, which he said is 17 years old (purchased used by the rink) and has had couple of serious mechanical breakdowns. He asked the council to consider providing $50,000 from the town’s lodging tax revenues to help pay for a replacement machine, which he estimated would cost $75,000 to $85,000.

The town’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC), which oversees how the lodging taxes the town collects are used to promote tourism, had recommended $40,000 in funding.

The council was clearly inclined to provide the $50,000 request, but council members said they first wanted to hear the LTAC’s reasoning for its $40,000 recommendation. Bill Kilby, the council member who sits on the LTAC, was not at last week’s meeting so could not speak to the issue.

Ice resurfacing machines are popularly known as “Zambonis,” but that is not always accurate. Zamboni is a brand name, after the inventor of the original ice resurfacer, and there are now other manufacturers. The machine owned by Winthrop Rink is actually an Olympia brand resurfacer.

Walsh said that he is anticipating $5,000 from the Give Methow Campaign, $5,000 from a donor who has agreed to help pay for a replacement machine, $10,000 from the Okanogan County LTAC, and $10,000 from other donors, for a total of $30,000 toward the machine’s purchase. Approval of a $50,000 contribution from the town would allow him to proceed with the purchase of a 2-year-old resurfacing machine that is available and has been sparingly used, Walsh said.

The newer machine has additional features that would make it more efficient, Walsh said.

Economic benefits

Installation of an ice making system a couple of years ago has allowed the rink to extend its season, and not depend on the vagaries of winter weather. As a result, Walsh said, the rink has been able to confidently schedule youth and adult hockey tournaments. The rink hosted seven tournaments in 2017-18, Walsh said, and already has 11 tournaments scheduled for the upcoming winter season.

The tournaments bring hundreds of visitors who spend money on food, lodging and other needs, Walsh said. He estimated the economic impact of the 2018-19 season would be about $875,000 for Winthrop. Adding a few more tournaments in 2019-20 could boost that to $1 million, he said.

The town could see a return on its investment in a new resurfacing machine in three to four years, Walsh said. “It would be a fantastic use of LTAC funds,” he added — whereas a broken down resurfacer could lead to canceled tournaments and loss of revenue to the town. He said a newer resurfacer could be expected to last 10 years or more.

The rink plans to extend it season this year from early November to late March, Walsh said. “We’re trying to hit the shoulder seasons,” he said.

Walsh said the rink’s option on the replacement machine expired Sept. 25, and he wanted to purchase it before the 2018-19 season begins. He said he would seek an extension of the deadline.

Some LTAC funds are available because a proposed “gateway” project for the east end of town has been postponed. “I’m confident we can raise $30,000” to cover the rest of the purchase price, Walsh said.

“I’d rather spend the [LTAC] money on a current need,” said council member Ben Nelson, who added that the rink has a demonstrable economic impact for the community.

Council member Bill McAdow said he also supported the $50,000 request. Council member Kirsten Vanderhalf said she would like to hear the LTAC’s rationale for only recommending only $40,000. The council agreed to support at least that level of funding, and to consider the full $50,000 request after hearing from the LTAC.

Walsh said that looking down the road a couple of years, the rink will be seeking a total of about $200,000, including a state Recreation and Conservation Office grant and local matching funds, to replace the “dasher boards” around the rink.

The rink is owned by the town and managed by a nonprofit organization.