Future of Tri County Ice Arena in Question

Tri County Arena
Tri County Arena

TOWN OF MENASHA - The future of the Tri County Ice Arena is in doubt.  Winnebago County owns the facility since it bought the arena from Outagamie County for one dollar about a year ago.  However, the current lease agreement is coming to a close and that's making some who use the ice nervous.

Coaches and parents of ice skaters and hockey players spoke at Tuesday's Winnebago County Board meeting.  They want a stable future for the Tri County Ice Arena in the Town of Menasha.

"It's very important, I mean there's hundreds of kids affected by this.  So it's huge,' said Heather Heuer a hockey mom from Neenah.

The board passed a resolution Tuesday saying it gets final say on any management lease decisions for the arena.  Previously, county executive Mark Harris had that final say.

"Taking control of this ice arena controversy.  This is a project many of us believe has been spinning out of control.  The county board is saying we want the final say on who runs it and any lease that's proposed," said board supervisor Bill Wingren.

County Board members told FOX 11 they're not looking to sell or close the arena, but want to find someone to operate the facility on a more long-term lease.

Harris told us the board was unable to do that in the past two years.  So he gave short term leases to the current manager, Tri County Recreation Association, out of necessity.

"In order to keep the facility open I had to give one year leases to tri county, or no one would be in charge of it," Harris explained.

The current lease is up June 30th.

The board has asked for proposals from individuals and organizations to manage the facility under a five year lease.  The lease lists several facility upgrades and other criteria the manager would be responsible for.

Harris says the board's criteria in the lease it's put forth are strict and the current manager has concerns.

"Sent us a letter saying the facility no longer generates enough revenue to cover both operations and the capital improvements that are needed," Harris explained.

A few months ago the county board voted to not put county money into those improvements.

"In my view and in the view of many of my colleagues, this is a want, not a need.  Should the county be in the ice arena business?  My answer is loud and clear: absolutely no," said Wingren.

But those who use the ice arena say the board should reconsider.

"I think if they put some money into it, it would definitely pay off.  It does benefit the community a ton with the tournaments and stuff that they have," said Heuer.

According to Harris, three entities have stepped forward to possibly lease and manage the arena.   He says none quite meet the criteria put forth by the board.  However, the county executive and board members say they will go over those in the next few weeks to try to come to an agreement.  If they cannot, the arena would need to close, at least temporarily.