Council and Skating Association at odds about Lease

If public reaction is any gauge, the City Council and City administrators are skating on thin ice regarding their desire to revisit the terms of the C. Douglas Cairns Recreation Arena lease. It was standing-room-only at City Hall on October 3rd as approximately a dozen individuals expressed their concerns about the City’s desire to amend lease provisions that have enabled the Dorset Park Skating Association (DPSA), a not-for-profit organization, to run the Cairns Arena successfully for over 15 years.

DPSA was formed in late 1994 after SB taxpayers had rejected a bond issue to construct an ice rink at Dorset Park. The corporate entity promptly raised over $1 million in private donations and borrowed another $1 million to build the first Cairns rink. Approximately four years later, a second rink was constructed. Upon completion of construction, DPSA transferred ownership of the facilities to the City, and the DPSA and the City entered into a lease calling for rent of $1 a year.

Last February, DPSA and the City’s Recreation Committee met to discuss DPSA’s proposed construction of a new entryway to connect both Cairns rinks. Tony Cairns, DPSA Board president, appeared before the Council in early April seeking City approval of the entryway construction. Following Cairns’s presentation, City Manager Sanford Miller and Assistant City Manager Bob Rusten sent a proposal to DPSA which called for rent of $175,000 in 2011, $150,000 in 2012, and annual increases of 3 percent over the remaining period of the 1995 lease. Miller and Rusten also sought other changes, including greater City representation on the DPSA Board and reduced user fees for South Burlington residents.

DPSA balked at the requested lease changes, and the City did not give its approval to build the entryway.

At the Council’s October 3rd meeting, Cairns said that payment of the rent requested by the City “would cause the rinks to become financially insolvent and would result in a violation of DPSA’s loan agreements with its lender.” He also said that, in late May, the ice surface on one of the rinks “suffered a major failure that resulted in a repair cost of more than $300,000.” According to Cairns, the repair “was found to be covered under the [City’s] insurance policy. DPSA paid cash for the repairs; to date [City Manager] Miller has failed to authorize the repayment to DPSA of the insurance reimbursement, a violation of the City’s lease with DPSA.”

Speakers who followed Cairns echoed his complaints; many appeared to be even more distressed about what they described as the City’s lack of candor in openly discussing the issues pertaining to the lease. Some were hopeful that the two sides could work together. “I’d like to be optimistic,” said Rolf Kielman, the last person to speak. “Let’s get this on a productive path,” he urged.

No date was set for further discussion of the Cairns Arena concerns, but Council Chair Sandra Dooley said that that the City was “engaged in a process regarding the issues.”

SOURCE: Bill Wargo, Correspondent

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