Wichita to discuss hiring Genesis to run Ice Center

A proposal for Genesis Health Clubs to manage the Wichita Ice Center will be considered today by the City Council.

City staff is recommending Genesis be awarded the three-year contract over Virginia-based Rink Management Services, the current operator, and New Jersey-based Ice World Consulting.

Genesis' bid calls for an annual management fee of $42,000, $6,000 less than the bids submitted by Rink Management and Ice World. Rink Management is paid $48,000 annually.

Rink Management, which manages 25 rinks across the country, has run the center since August 2006. In 2008, the facility lost $33,000. It earned $7,000 in 2009 and $23,000 last year.

"The building is now self-sustaining," said Louis Lombardo III, who has been the Ice Center's general manager for nearly a year for Rink Management. "We're kind of upset how it's gone. We've made strides and improvements."

Managing an ice rink would be a new area for Genesis. But Park and Recreation director Doug Kupper said he didn't see that as a problem.

He said the city staff considered Genesis' proven ability to manage recreational facilities.

"It's not outside their purview to manage the Ice Center," Kupper said, "because it is just a specialized recreational facility. We're satisfied that they have a number of ice-experienced employees lined up to operate our facility."

As part of the contract, the city must approve the hiring of a general manager. The agreement also requires that Genesis continue holding regular meetings with a stakeholders' advisory committee, which was formed last fall to give input on the center's needs.

The ice-skating community is taking a wait-and-see approach on the possible selection of Genesis.

"We're trying to make this as successful as possible," said Al Sanchez, a member of the advisory committee who also plays in an adult hockey league.

He said the city is paying attention to the committee's recommendations, including affordable ice time, access to ice, use of the second-floor lobby for major events and professional management of the facility.

But some wonder whether Genesis will know how to manage an ice rink.

"I want to know who they're going to bring in and run it," said Leigh Chambers, who is on the advisory committee and is president of the Wichita Figure Skating Club. "I don't expect an ice guy to run a golf course or a health center."

Rodney Steven II, Genesis president, said he would bring in only people who know what they're doing.

"My secret to success is we hire the best staff," he said. "The Ice Center will never be run better."

Steven also said he has no immediate plans to do anything with the second floor, which is used extensively when major events are held at the center.

While he said he might consider putting a small fitness center on the second floor someday, "We won't do anything up there that would hurt major events."

For the first time, the management contract will include incentives for profit. The city will pay 10 percent of annual net revenue up to a profit of $10,000 and 20 percent for anything over that amount.

"We want to grow the business," Kupper said. "The incentive package was a way to get everybody thinking the same way."

He said attendance for public skating was 41,000 in 2010, but the number has been stagnant in recent years.

As part of the contract, the city will fund up to $316,000 in capital improvements for the center, including painting, updated lighting and new signs. That work is expected to begin this spring, Kupper said.

Steven said the 15-year-old Ice Center has been badly neglected but that he would make it the "jewel it once was."

"Right now, it doesn't look or feel like a jewel," he said. "If you're an ice skater, you love it because it's all you have. But it could function so much better."

Lombardo, the current general manager, said the city budgeted $100,000 for repairs and improvements in 2009 and 2010, then withdrew it both years.

"And now we're hearing the city is going to spend $316,000 for Genesis," he said.