The Uncertain Future of First Arena

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For years, ownership and management of Elmira’s First Arena have repeatedly changed hands. But, some recent developments indicate a more permanent leadership may be near. 

“We are at a make or break point in time right now,” Chemung County Executive, Tom Santulli said. “This is huge.”

The fate of First Arena could be decided in the coming weeks. Since opening in 2000, First Arena has created a whirlwind of economic turmoil. 17 years later, a bright future could be in sight or an abrupt ending.

The Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, a public benefit corporation, acquired ownership last summer and has since kept the facility operational. Now,  they are working with the City of Elmira and Chemung County to transfer ownership to a private buyer with big plans for the future.

“We have a person who has stepped up, who is local, who has the financial ability, that knows hockey, that has ties to the N.H.L. and that is interested in owning the team and the facility,” Santulli said.

But, City and County leaders recognize First Arena’s potential for being more than just a hockey facility.  

“It’s a very important part of our community with the hockey team and other events that happen there, the Wine on Ice, the concerts and everything,” Mayor of Elmira, Dan Mandell said. “It’s just all part of this plan to revitalize Elmira and that is a key component of revitalizing our city is the arena.”

The unidentified buyer has given officials an ultimatum. Major upgrades to the facility’s ice plant must be financed and completed before assuming ownership. If the demands are not met, the buyer may back out and the arena could go dark. 

“This person is willing to make a major infusion of money, but is also looking for, not ongoing help, but, the ice plant needs some work,” Santulli said. “If the community would step up and help do that, he would do the balance and then assume all responsibility and liability.”

Upgrades of this magnitude require a great deal of additional funding from a city that is already in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis. 

“We were approached by the County to assist with half of the cost of the ice plant a few weeks ago, and we have looked into that,” Elmira City Manager, Michael Collins said. “As early as last Thursday, we were asked in addition to half of the cost, also funding additional money. So, the City is being asked to fund $1.5 million to assist with the First Arena.”

That doesn’t include the one million dollars the city still owes on the Community Development Block Grant, a grant issued when the facility was first opened. So the question remains, where is the money for the ice plant coming from?

“Unfortunately, we are very limited on how to generate revenue,” Collins said. “One way to generate revenue would be a tax increase and that’s a hefty dollar amount that we are being asked to assist with and that will fall back on the taxpayers. That is a concern for Council as a whole, as well as the residents here in the city.”

All parties involved say they do not want the financial burden of the arena to fall on taxpayers. But, unless something changes, the source of the ice plant’s funding remains unknown. 

“We’ll work this out because the last thing we want to see is the sale not go through,” Mandell said. “We’re definitely in favor of keeping that arena open. It’s in the best interest of the city and the best interest of the community.”

“We’re on the verge of either going to the next level in taking this forward, or I think the only other alternative is that the place closes,” Santulli said. “Hate to see that happen. We need to do everything we can to keep that arena open. If that place goes dark, it’ll probably be dark forever.”

Officials claim that an announcement could be made as early as tomorrow on the arena’s future.

Stick with 18 News on-air and online as new details become available.

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