Point Mallard Park overcame the obstacles of pandemic-related capacity restrictions and an employee shortage to make money in fiscal 2021, city officials said, benefiting in part from the closed ice rink incurring minimal expenses. 

Chief Financial Officer Kyle Demeester said the Decatur park had $4.94 million in revenue, which surpassed expenditures by $889,161. The park’s cash balance also increased by $359,000 while expenditures were down $410,000, an 8.75% reduction from fiscal 2019, he said.

“More importantly, park revenues were almost level with fiscal 2019,” Demeester said. “This was all done with having the park open less days and operating on capacity restrictions.”

Fiscal 2020 was a bust for the park. The pandemic forced it to close its main attraction, the Aquatics Park, and Point Mallard lost $1.4 million.

The Point Mallard Ice Complex has a 17,000-square-foot main area that has not been used since the summer of 2019. A routine inspection found collapsed pipes that were part of the ice-making system.

The complex lost $286,424 in fiscal 2019, and it still lost $33,910 this year despite being closed.

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said not having the ice complex helped the park make money this year.

“Look at $33,910 compared to almost $300,000, not having the ice rink was a big difference in the Point Mallard enterprise budget this year,” Lake said.

The future of the indoor ice rink has been controversial since its closure, and this will be the third winter in which will the facility will be dormant.

When Lake informed the public in 2019 of the ice rink’s problems, he estimated the repairs could cost between $260,000 and $1.4 million depending on how extensive the city wanted the repairs. He said these estimates would likely be higher now with inflation and the growing cost of materials.

The renovation project did not have the support of the previous City Council, whose term ended in November 2020. The repair costs, the fact that ice rink loses over $200,000 annually and limited local interest are the forces playing against the ice-rink proponents. The renovations have not appeared to have much support from the current council, although that could be changing. 

Lake also proposed in 2019 turning the rink building into a multi-sports and event center that he said would be a moneymaker for the park. A group of local residents interested in youth hockey and competitive ice skating campaigned hard for the city to repair and reopen the Ice Complex.

When avid local hockey supporter Daniel Frith urged the council to repair the rink in August, Councilman Hunter Pepper said, “The ice rink needs to be torn down. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Longtime Councilman Billy Jackson was against the building of the indoor ice rink and has said he is opposed to repairing it. 

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Ice rink support

Councilman Carlton McMasters, whose District 3 includes many of the ice rink supporters, said he would like to see the rink repaired. He also proposed removing the ice rink from the Point Mallard enterprise account so there’s less focus on whether it makes or loses money.

“The ice rink is a quality-of-life asset that needs to be treated like Wilson Morgan Park, T.C. Almon Recreation Center, Jack Allen Sports Complex and train depot museum,” McMasters said. “We don’t worry about whether these items make money because they’re here for the enjoyment of our residents and to attract tourists to the city.”

Lake said he believes it’s time to make a decision on whether the Ice Complex should remain in the Point Mallard enterprise account, but he said removal is a business decision of the City Council.

Council President Jacob Ladner and Councilman Kyle Pike said they would support repairing the ice rink, especially if the city goes with a less costly repair.

“Obviously, I would rather it not sit vacant,” Pike said. “We know that our ice rink survived past its life span so we should expect the need to repair it after a certain period of time. Maybe we should have been a little more proactive in preparing to make the repairs.”

Pike said he’s not sure how moving the ice rink from the enterprise fund would affect city finances.

“It depends on whether or not we want to look at the ice rink as one of those quality-of-life expenses,” Pike said.

The City Council approved $20 million in bonds Wednesday in a called meeting with the intent of funding several major projects like the Sixth Avenue streetscape, a downtown parking deck and a new farmers market. Ladner said funding for the ice rink repairs could come from this borrowed money.

“Decatur has always been a leader in recreation and an ice rink is something that our neighboring cities except for Huntsville don’t have,” Ladner said. “Madison, Athens, Hartselle and Cullman don’t have ice rinks. Plus, we are getting new residents from the northern part of the country who like hockey moving into the area.”

Ladner said he wants the ice rink repaired and then for the complex to only be open in the winter “when people expect ice rinks to be open.”

The Aquatics Park is Point Mallard’s main draw and biggest financial engine. Demeester reported the swimming park brought in $2.69 million in revenues in fiscal 2021 and made $212,196 over expenses.

The Aquatics Park made money despite the pandemic limiting attendance. It also had to close certain attractions and at times the whole park because of shortages of employees, especially lifeguards. 

Despite several changes, rate increases helped the campground make $1.3 million in revenue. This was $714,693 over expenses.

The golf course fell short by only $3,818 as it brought in $884,133 for fiscal 2021. That’s $115,269 more revenue than in 2019.

Lake attributed the increase in revenue to a greater focus on local golfers, particularly high school-age players, and using a variety of local golf pros on contracts instead of employing a golf pro.

Ladner said it’s good to see Lake and his crew use business principles to run Point Mallard. He said this is how they recognized the Aquatics Park needed to increase admission fees. 

“They saw that expenses are going up in employee pay, so they made a change,” Ladner said.

But Ladner pointed out that the Lazy River attraction’s debt service payments come out of the city’s general fund and not the Point Mallard enterprise account.

“I don’t see how they can say they made or lost money if a capital expense also doesn’t come out of their budget,” Ladner said.

Ladner said he’s not concerned about whether Point Mallard makes money because of the quality-of-life factor that McMasters mentioned. He also said the park helps the city make money from tourism-related spending like gas, food and hotels that are hard to quantify.

“We benefit from just having Point Mallard,” Ladner said. “A lot of my friends from elsewhere know Decatur because of Point Mallard.”

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bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

(1) comment

Spence Mckay

Turn it into an event center, rent a rink like HSV does at Christmas. How many skaters do we have? Perhaps they would put more money into admission to support it further? How about a shuttle service for the low income so they can also use the facility, learn a new sport. The shuttle can also be used for the pending new facility proposed at the old ADM site, that should satisfy the concerns of Councilman Jackson and his constituents.

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