PROVO — After funding struggles threatened to close Peak's Ice Arena, the Utah County Commission and the city of Provo brokered an agreement that will keep the doors open and the patrons skating until the summer of 2018.
In March, Utah County began considering options to sell its share of management of Peak's Ice Arena. The decision sparked concerns that Provo would be left with funding the extra cost within 180 days, and if the city couldn't, the rink would be the first Olympic venue from the 2002 Games to close.
Officials reached an agreement on Wednesday, and Utah County will continue to fund the arena through June 30, 2018. Both city and county officials are still working out the details of their partnership beyond the next fiscal year.
The Seven Peaks Management Co. maintained the Olympic venue from its completion in 1998 until 2008. After losing a protracted lawsuit due to missed rent payments, the private owners relinquished control of the arena to the current city-county partnership.
Since 2008, Provo and Utah County split costs 50-50 to support the women's hockey venue. Both were equally responsible in terms of funding everything from staffing to maintenance.
On March 23 Utah County commissioners sent a letter to Provo officials indicating the county would take 180 days to attempt to transfer its 50 percent investment in the arena to another organization.
Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves said the county initially called for cost evaluation in an effort at renegotiating its obligation, which currently has Utah County matching funding with Provo, regardless of need.
"What we offered to them was to still be a partner," Graves said, "but the county doesn’t want to participate every year. We want to participate when there’s major things that need to happen."
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee said "the subsidy has been decreased in agreement with Provo."
The cost of maintaining the arena fluctuated annually, and both entities were starting to over-pay to run the arena. Graves said the two parties would agree upon the subsidy payment before the start of their fiscal year. Payments initially consisted of about half a million dollars each, but last year each paid about $180,000 even though the arena brought in enough revenue that it did not need the entire subsidy.
"What we are trying to get is where there is a mechanism for both parties to not have to put taxpayer money into a savings account," Graves said, noting the arena still has more than half a million dollars in excess funds.
Utah County would like to fund other recreation projects, Graves said, and step in only when the arena faces major funding needs.
Fraser Bullock, who was chief operating officer and chief financial officer for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said Utah's ability to maintain its Olympic venues so far after the games is a unique feat among Games hosts.
"If Peak's were to go through some kind of situation where it wouldn't be utilized anymore, it would be very unfortunate for the Olympic legacy," Bullock said. "I think everybody will be able to work things out."
Graves said the decision reached would not lead to a change in ticket prices for patrons of the arena. He said the city and the county have only discussed raising rates on rental fees for the facilities to resolve problems with over-booking.
"We think we are right where we need to be as far as being profitable again," he said. "They have been continually performing better and better."
The Utah County Commission is planning to meet with Provo Mayor John Curtis on July 6 to finalize the funding arrangement.