The cash-strapped Sun Prairie Ice Arena — hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions — is getting help to get through its financial woes from the City of Sun Prairie.
Ice arena aid, city officials say, is necessary to avoid a default of the arena’s building loan that the city has helped to guarantee.
Last week, the city council OK’d delaying principal payments on the loan until October, when Sun Prairie Ice Inc. would be expected to continue with higher payments.
To cover operating and debt shortfalls the Sun Prairie Ice Inc. will also be allowed to use money from an escrow account set up by the city and the Sun Prairie Youth Hockey Association. City officials said the money will be drawn from the SPYHA contributions ($142,000) first and when those are depleted, the $142,000 of city funds in the account.
With temporary closings and mandated COVID-19 capacity limits on the ice arena, Sun Prairie Ice Inc. has depleted its cash reserves and drew funds from the escrow account to cover its debt service for November and December, city officials report.
City of Sun Prairie Director of Administrative Services Connie DeKemper recommended that alders approve the credit agreement amendments to get the Sun Prairie Ice Arena through until fall.
“This will allow them to be free from payments for the next nine months until they can reopen and ramp-up,” DeKemper told alders at a Jan. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The alternative, DeKemper said, would be Sun Prairie Ice Arena defaulting on the loan. She said if the loan goes into default, the city has the first option to purchase the ice arena at the price of the remaining bond amount.
If the city refuses, the offer would then go to Prairie Athletic Club (PAC). If PAC refuses, the bank would liquidate the assets. If there was any shortage of the debt once the liquidation was done, the city would be committed to $568,000 and the PAC at $300,000, to make up the shortfall.
The city issued a $5.39 million industrial revenue bond in January 2014 to refinance the construction loan for the building at 838 Grove St.. as part of an agreement between the Sun Prairie Youth Hockey Association, Inc., the Bank of Sun Prairie and Prairie Athletic Club to build a hockey arena in the city. The city transferred land by warranty deed for the arena’s location.
The city, as part of the agreement, contributed $75,000 each year for the first five years to the debt service coverage reserve that was held by the city in a restricted fund. DeKemper said after the required commitment, the $375,000 was placed in the city’s unrestricted fund balance.
District 1 Alder Steve Stocker, who said he taught ice skating at the ice arena as part of the city Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, supported the credit agreement amendment to help the arena.
“This is a very, very well-utilized facility,” Stocker said. “It brings umpteen revenue to the city because they have tournaments where they bring people not just out of Wisconsin, but Illinois and such, so to turn our back on it would be a shame. It just makes sense that the city backs this, as it has in the past.”
Dave Batterman, president of Sun Prairie Ice Inc. said in a phone interview Thursday, that the arena has been successful during the last seven years of operations and 2020 was set to be the best year ever until the pandemic hit.
With the safer-at-home order last spring and COVID-19 emergency order restrictions, Batterman said Sun Prairie Ice Arena Inc.’s contract business is down 75 percent and programming is down 85 percent.
Batterman said the arena has a proven method of COVID-19 safety measures but has not been able to operate at capacity and has further been impacted by sporting events moving to ice arenas in counties that are less restrictive than Dane County.
Batterman said activities at the Sun Prairie Ice Arena are now limited to youth hockey practice and learn-to-skate programs.
The Card Table, the restaurant inside the Sun Prairie Ice Arena complex, is closed until further notice, but Batterman said the business has continued to pay rent.
Batterman said during normal operations, the arena attracts at least 15,000 visitors a year to the city — boosting local restaurants, hotels, shops and gas stations.
A Sun Prairie Tourism Market Analysis, completed this summer, suggested an expansion of the 91,000 sq. ft. Sun Prairie Ice Arena because of demonstrated tournament success.
Consultants, hired by the city, ranked the Sun Prairie Ice Arena No. 6 in the top places by total customers from 2017-19. The facility has two NHL-sized rinks and a seating capacity of 1,700.
“We are very confident that when business returns to normal we will be in a good financial position to provide services to the community,” Batterman said. “The Sun Prairie Ice Arena is not going to come to the end because of the pandemic.”
Last year the Sun Prairie Ice Arena received a $10,000 COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Grant approved by the city’s Tourism Commission. Grant money can’t be used for operations cost but can be used for advertising, marketing, and hiring a marketing consultant.