Public Watchdog.org

More Ice At Oakton? Take It To Referendum

08.16.17

It was public intellectual George Santayana who penned that well-known aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

That’s the thought that popped into our mind the other day when we read a string of comments to a Facebook post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners page about how the Park District’s Oakton complex NEEDS a second ice surface.

Why?

Because “[t]he demand for ice time in this area is astronomical”; and “[h]ockey players, figure skaters and coaches are being forced to look elsewhere for ice time (Which translates to finances leaving Park Ridge),” according to the FB post’s author, Teresa Smith Nelson.

Those of you who have been around Park Ridge and who actually can “remember the past” may recall how the issue of a second ice surface at Oakton has popped up every so often over the past 20 years, usually wrapped in the same rhetoric: A huge demand for ice time, “finances leaving Park Ridge” and how the facility will pay for itself. That rhetoric is advanced primarily by parents who are tired of schlepping their kids to other towns for early morning or late night ice time, as well as those who object to paying the higher non-resident rates for the ice-time and/or programs.

Government-owned recreational facilities rarely pay for themselves even on merely an “operating” basis, much less by covering the debt service for their construction costs. Consequently, even preventing all those “finances leaving Park Ridge” rarely, if ever, generates enough revenue to turn the ledger ink for that facility from red to black.

Which is why there are so few purely private ice rinks (a la Johnny’s Ice House on West Madison in Chicago) being built in the Chicagoland area. And why many/most of the private rink complexes still in operation have gone through one or more foreclosures and/or bankruptcies until vulture investors could pick them up at deep discounts (a la Seven Bridges in Woodridge).

This blog’s editor played hockey from age 7 to age 40 so, frankly, we have no problem with a second, or even a third, ice surface being added at Oakton. Heck, throw in a major renovation and expansion of the current locker rooms, team rooms, etc. Maybe go whole hog and add a restaurant, bar, gift shop and parking deck!

But unless some private developer shows up with a grand plan and a check big enough to pay for it, we hope the Park Ridge Park District Board sends any proposal for more ice at Oakton to referendum.

That way, the taxpayers who will end up on the hook for a facility only a small fraction of our residents seem to want – an amenity, not a necessity – can get the chance to express their support or lack thereof at the voting booth.

We already have two second/third-rate Park District facilities that were foisted on the taxpayers without referendum, both coincidentally at Centennial Park: The Fitness Center (formerly the “Community Center”) and the water park, each one costing the taxpayers over $10 million, give or take a million or so once the debt service is added in.

The Fitness Center was so undersized and so badly designed from the day it opened back in the early ‘90s that, fifteen years ago, an executive of a major fitness chain took a tour of the place before concluding that his company wouldn’t accept ownership or management of it even if they could get it for free!

Among his many deal-breakers: Only two basketball courts; no exercise room; not enough racquetball/handball courts; a swimming pool too short and too narrow to hold swim meets; and access to that pool area that required walking through the middle of the men’s locker room showers, where curtain-less showers (at that time) created an interesting dilemma for dads taking their young daughters into the pool area for swimming lessons.

Similarly, by keeping the cost of the 3-month-a-year water park within the District’s non-referendum debt limit so that it didn’t have to go to referendum, the 2012-13 Park Board limited its borrowing to just over $6 million of 15-year non-referendum bonds by cutting out some features, including a lazy river – the feature most desired by the District’s 682 survey respondents.

Fortunately for District taxpayers and fans of good government, this past April the voters elected Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell, thereby creating a Board majority which already has demonstrated – with their anti-perks vote – that they are a more fiscally-responsible majority than the profligate Board majorities that built the Fitness Center or the water park.

If the drumbeat for more ice surfaces at Oakton continues, expect to hear the traditional war cry of those folks who doubt their pet project can actually win a referendum and, therefore, need to avoid it: “You Board members were elected to make these kinds of decisions!”

They weren’t, of course – because over the past two decades none of them actually campaigned by promising multi-million dollar special-interest amenities without voter approval. Even tone-deaf candidates who believe in spendthrift government know that such overt disrespect for the taxpayers would be political suicide.

So they wrap themselves in the mantle of “fiscal responsibility” and solemnly insist that they “respect the taxpayers”… until they get elected.

Hopefully we now have a Park Board majority whose members really are what they campaigned as, and who really do respect the taxpayers.

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3 comments so far

Does the facility currently operate at a loss? You also forgot to mention that a capital investment will need to be made regardless wrt the refrigeration system/chemical. At least with a rink it will generate revenue 12 months a year 18 hours a day. Waterparks in Chicago on the other hand….

EDITOR’S NOTE: We do not believe it currently operates at a loss; and, yes, unlike the water park it is used all year.

The CAPEX for renovation of the current ice surface falls within the maintain/repair/replace policy of the District. The issue being raised by some, however, is a second ice surface.

You forgot to mention the youth campus disaster for our overcrowded park district employees. I realize that went to referendum but on the heals of we need it. I refer to that as kingdom building for people wanting bigger and better buildings and more people doing less at the expense of the taxpayers, I mean revenue target people.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Prospect Park appears to be the classic gov’t bait-and-switch: Sell a grossly under-budgeted project to the taxpayers, then cut features when the real costs reveal the under-budgeting.

But at least that project, despite its under-budgeted bait-and-switch, went to referendum, unlike the second-rate water park. And had the $6 million+ of non-referendum bonded debt not been blown on the water park, it could have been available to supplement the costs of the under-budgeted Prospect Park.

I also played hockey, although not until 40, some of it at Oakton.

I also played at Seven Bridges back when it opened in 1994-95, perhaps the premier 3-rink complex in the country with Blackhawk star Jeremy Roenick and former stars Keith Magnuson and Doug Wilson as partners and drawing cards. But it cratered because, after the initial surge new facilities tend to have, people didn’t want to pay the higher prime-time prices. They also couldn’t generate revenue from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every school day.

I also played at a few other places that cratered, such as All-Seasons in Naperville and Hat Trick in Villa Park.

But that also was before girls started playing the game, so there may be a greater demand now.

I can’t imagine any private developer wants to build it, so any second (or third) ice surface at Oakton should go to referendum.



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