Numbers back up claims that arena benefits communityPublished 11:05am Monday, March 12, 2012
As hockey and skating season draws to a close, so does the first season of the Fergus Falls Community Arena. Though the ice arena’s construction drew and still does draw ire from some residents, many in the city are beginning to see the arena’s benefits first-hand.
One of the biggest financial impacts has been the Fergus Falls Hockey Association’s youth hockey tournaments, which can now host more teams, thanks to the practice rink.
“With having this new arena and two rinks, we were able to have more than eight teams at a tournament,” said Kelly Longtin, the association’s tournament coordinator. “Pretty much all of (the new teams) had to stay in hotels.”
In two of the FFHA’s six youth hockey tournaments, 12 teams were involved (the arena also hosted the District 15 Pee Wee A tournament this year). Those additional players and their families add up.
Using tourism spending research from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the Fergus Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that the 714 visiting groups (hockey players and their families) who came to Fergus Falls in the 2009-2010 hockey season for youth hockey spent $313,660 (2010-11 numbers were not calculated). This year, there were 969 groups, spending an estimated $425,681 in the community.
One place where those groups have been staying is the Fergus Falls AmericInn. Manager Keresa Schultz explained that the number of “blocks” of rooms reserved by hockey teams doubled this year, and the number of actual rooms reserved by teams and players’ families increased by 35 percent.
“I think the more events we have there, the more beneficial it is for everyone here,” said Schultz.
Pizza Ranch is a popular eating destination for many visiting teams. General Manager Ashton Stoltenburg always knows it’s a hockey weekend when a crush of uniforms comes through the door.
“We always get calls ahead of time trying to reserve a party room, and some just come unexpected,” she said. While she said the local Pizza Ranch has been growing in popularity in general, she believes the ice arena may have helped them draw in a few more diners.
Hockey isn’t the only revenue generator. “We’ve also seen more (hotel) stays due to figure skating,” Schultz noted.
At the Fergus Falls Skating Club’s recent mini-competition at the arena, about 100 skaters from 10 different skating clubs competed. That’s a huge increase over competitions held in the Fairgrounds Arena, Basic Skills Director Heather Dirkman noted.
“Usually, we’re in the 40s,” she said.
While outside involvement is good for the local economy, many associated with the arena believe that the real benefit is increased local participation.
The skating club enrolled 115 basic skills skaters this year, up from the typical 80 to 90, and youth hockey registration rose by about 30 kids. On the city side, attendance at city-run events like open skate and adult lunch time hockey has topped 3,500. While Parks and Recreation Manager Steve Plaza does not have attendance numbers for previous years, he said participation has skyrocketed.
On open skate days at the fairgrounds, he said, “We had four to 10 people average. Here we’re getting 25 to 30 sometimes.”
In the summer, open roller-skate and roller hockey days will be held in the space.
The city expects usage during the off-season as well. A few different groups are looking at using the arena space for events, and the annual Men’s Health Day has already been booked there. The Fergus Falls Public Schools will also leverage the unfrozen rinks, using it as practice space for the softball program on rainy days.
The school system has perhaps reaped the most benefits from the arena.
“We basically have contracted that we can use it pretty much at will during the day,” said FFPS Activities Director Gary Schuler.
While attendance has been better at Otter high school games this year (one reason: the seating area is warmer), Schuler said the arena is used for so much more. Physical education classes are often held there, an impossibility when the nearest sheet of indoor ice was at the Fairgrounds.
“Anytime that you can add something to your curriculum that is different from what you usually can do, that’s a positive,” he remarked.
Economic benefits aside, what some observers in the school, city, hockey association and skating club are seeing is a general increase of interest in skating. The nice facilities and central location have lured in people who are curious, and that curiosity has often bloomed into something they can enjoy for years to come.
“It can be a good lifetime activity,” said Schuler. He recalled a recent trip to arena during an open skate day.
“I saw people from about age four all the way up to a gentleman who appeared to be in his seventies.”Tags: ice arena