It’s premature to speculate what could become of the Glacier Ice Arena, but it raises another interesting question about the proper role of government.
Officials with the city of Grand Junction have toured the ice rink and city staff is evaluating whether buying it and making it a publicly owned amenity makes sense.
Free market proponents would argue that if the Glacier Ice Arena can’t survive as a private-sector business then it makes little sense for the city to own it. But, as we’ve pointed out many times before, the goals of business and government aren’t the same, even if government operations should be run like a business.
The bottom line in business is the bottom line — profitability. The bottom line in government is providing services that taxpayers want or need. Police protection and parks don’t make money, but nobody argues about their value to the community.
The city of Grand Junction owns golf courses and clubhouses, a municipal pool, parks and ball fields. A few years ago, City Manager Greg Caton told the Sentinel’s editorial board he felt Grand Junction could do more to capitalize on “sports tourism.” Hosting softball or soccer tournaments is a way to fill restaurants and hotel rooms.
Here’s an amenity that seem like a potential fit within that model. But how many traveling hockey teams are there in the state? Why would they choose to play a tournament in Grand Junction if there are other ice rinks on Front Range?
The bigger question is what happens to the Glacier Ice Arena if the city doesn’t buy it. Most likely, we would lose an ice rink. Is there value in keeping that capacity viable? What kind of programming might the city come up with that could have widespread appeal to locals?
As we imagine the kind of city we want to be, diverse and vibrant with plentiful amenities, is an ice rink fit a good fit within that image? Grand Junction has recently branded itself as an outdoors playland. Having available ice could be just as attractive to potential residents from the Northeast or Upper Midwest as mountain biking trails are to Westerners.
If all goes according to plan, the business park at Las Colonias could someday feature a climbing structure, a pump track, a zip line — maybe even a velodrome — in addition to a whitewater park. Having an ice rink nearby would complement that inventory.
There’s a lot for the city to consider. It could acquire the rink and then put out a bid for proposals to manage the facility, much as it does with the Avalon and Two Rivers. The management company would be tasked with covering operating expenses so it doesn’t become a subsidy headache. Or the city could simply say it’s an important asset that allows for a college club team, youth hockey leagues and figure skating lessons to exist. In any case, we’d need to fully understand the financial implications of such a move — both in the short term for acquiring the facility, and the longer term operations and maintenance costs vs. potential revenues.
City staff is weighing all of this. At this point, we’d say it’s not ludicrous for the city to be kicking the tires. But we’d need to see a solid plan for how this amenity can be leveraged into something more than it is now — especially when public sentiment has consistently supported the creation of a community center.
This is not that. But it could be a component of community center programming if we ever get that far. Stay tuned. We’re curious to hear the deliberations on this one.