Ice sports advocates are asking the Casper City Council to consider adding a second sheet of ice to the Casper Ice Arena.
Councilmembers discussed the possibility at their June 11 work session.
Adding the second sheet of ice would be a multi-million dollar project, Casper Parks and Recreation Department Director Tim Cortez said, adding that the discussion was only a preliminary step to gauge the council’s interest.
A rendering for the proposed additional ice sheet shows it being built on part of the existing ice arena parking lot. The second sheet would be enclosed and available for year-round use, Cortez said.
Currently, the Casper Ice Arena supports a variety of community groups, including the Casper Amatuer Hockey Club, the Casper Figure Skating Club and youth hockey programs, among others. The volume of activity at the arena has posed scheduling programs.
“We have a huge bottle neck right now,” Cortez said. “We don’t get our kids home until 10 or 11 o’clock at night.”
With youth hockey in Casper—and Wyoming generally—growing, after-school ice time is at a premium.
Youth hockey teams can only practice before and after school, and adult leagues are confined by their membership’s typical 9 to 5 work schedules as well. This means the ice is packed between 4 p.m. and midnight.
Chad Green, recreation coordinator at the ice arena, shared similar observations about the current schedule. He said the arena sees a lot of use year-round. Right now the Casper arena is the only one in Wyoming open during the summer, Green said. The arena would also be the only Wyoming facility with two sheets of ice — provided the proposal moves forward.
He said players from across the state come to Casper to utilize the arena during the off-season. Already the summer youth hockey programs the arena offers are full.
He said adding the second sheet would increase the facility’s ability to host youth and adult events.
In a presentation to the council, hockey club members proposed other uses for the second ice sheet during the summer as well, including adding an indoor soccer field or batting cages.
Cortez said the department has looked at partnering with the Casper Events Center, (which put in an ice floor of its own in 2014,) to solve the issue, but that relationship would be financially prohibitive.
When the Casper Events Center spent more than $2 million to add the ice rink capability, it was meant to attract a minor-league hockey team. It did, though briefly. That team has since dissolved and the events center hasn’t had an ice season in two years, Casper Events Center Director of Operations Paul Hanson said. When the center did have an ice season, it was not open to the public and did not host user groups.
Cortez said converting the event center floor back and forth costs $20,000 per conversion, an economic infeasibility for community groups. Still, some of the equipment no longer being used by the events center is going to be moved to the ice arena. That equipment can already support two sheets of ice, Cortez said, making the cost of adding the second sheet less than it would be otherwise.
But the cost to build the addition on the ice arena and install the second sheet are as-yet unknown, because no formal study has been conducted. Bower said the group is hoping for council approval to move forward with such a study. The hockey club would pay for that study, Bower told council members Tuesday.
Council members questioned this lack of cost analysis. When pressed, Bower told council members the rough estimate would be between $8 million and $9 million, but he emphasized that was a rough estimate.
“I’m not sure if that’s what it’s going to cost, I’m really not,” he said.
Bower told the Star-Tribune the club is also looking for private support as well, so the total cost of the addition would not fall solely to the city.
If a study deemed an additional sheet economically realistic, Bower said it would benefit the whole community, not only those invested in hockey and other ice sports.
In 2019, the ice arena hosted one hockey tournament for the amateur hockey club. Six teams were involved. Bower said that one tournament generated roughly $85,000 to $90,000 for the city. The second sheet of ice would allow for more tournaments, thereby increasing tourism spending in the city.
Those events would not be limited to the hockey club. It would also support additional figure skating and youth hockey events, Bower said.
That increase could be between $620,000 and roughly $950,000, according to the group’s estimates. Those estimates come from a tool provided by Visit Casper to gauge economic impact.
The hockey club predicts the economic impact generated by the additional events would offset the cost of the addition.
“We understand the initial investment is large,” Bower said. “It’s the ‘build it, they will come’ kind of scenario.”
Council member Krystyn Lutz agreed with that prediction.
“It would have an enormous amount of year-round use,” Lutz said. “We’re not just talking about hockey, there’s a mad race in this state right now for indoor soccer space.”
Council members were overall positive to the proposal.
Mayor Charlie Powell also voiced approval, but stressed advancing with caution.
“I’m in favor of doing it, I think we need to do the study for sure,” he said.
The council approved moving forward with that study and will make a decision on the ice arena when that study is complete.