Officials consider bond for ice rink

78,000-square-foot facility proposed for Route 97 parcel

`More than willing to help'

January 11, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Westminster officials are considering helping a resident build Carroll County's first indoor skating rink by issuing a bond for the project.

Robert D. Miller, a special projects representative for Nielsen Media Research, wants to build a 78,000- square-foot ice skating emporium with two National Hockey League-size rinks, eight locker rooms and three party rooms on a 13.5-acre parcel near the county airport off Route 97. Miller is lining up investors for the project.

Miller told the city last month that he would have difficulty completing the skating rink without an industrial revenue bond, which would allow him to obtain a low-interest bank loan to pay for up to 90 percent of the $5.5 million project. He hopes to raise the remaining cost of the project from investors.

Tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds allow municipalities to support private-sector projects without pledging money or guaranteeing the loans. Such bonds are reserved for nonprofit organizations and for projects that would spur economic development. Westminster is allowed by law to approve up to $10 million in bank-qualified loans per year.

"We're more than willing to help," said council President Damian L. Halstad.

However, the support ends with helping Miller secure the loan, he added. City taxpayers would not be liable if Miller were to default on the loan received through such a bond. Miller would be responsible.

Westminster has been interested in building its own ice rink for several years, but cost has prohibited the project. Last year, the city's parks and recreation department discarded a portable rink it had acquired in 1995 because it did not have a refrigeration unit and was dependent upon the weather.

"We're either going to do it for real or not at all," said Ronald J. Schroers, Westminster's director of parks and recreation.

He said about five people call his office each week asking if the city has an ice skating facility. The closest rinks to Westminster are in Baltimore, Frederick and York, Pa.

Recently, Halstad's and Schroers' interest in building an ice rink in town was bolstered by a tour of the York City Ice Arena, an 85,000-square-foot double-rink facility that opened in September. Unlike the bond being sought for the Westminster rink, the York arena's $7 million bond was guaranteed by the city.

Miller, planning and public works Director Thomas B. Beyard and the city's economic development specialist, Stanley T. Ruchlewicz, accompanied the two men. They talked to rink general manager Fred L. Suydam, walked on the ice, examined the equipment that maintains the facility and sat in the driver's seat of the rink's cherry red, $63,000 Zamboni.

"It's the Taj Mahal of ice rinks," Halstad said.

Miller said he plans to make Westminster's rink a multipurpose facility by making one of the rinks into an arena for indoor events such as concerts in the off-season to maximize its use.

Beyard said the city is looking into whether Miller's ice rink project would qualify for an industrial revenue bond. If it does, the council could introduce the issue as an ordinance and vote on it.

The council has issued similar bonds for Western Maryland College and the Montessori School of Westminster, Beyard said.

Miller said he hopes to break ground in March.

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