The Pueblo Bulls Hockey Club has big ambitions for the Pueblo Ice Arena.
The Pueblo City Council on Monday unanimously approved a five-year lease and management agreement between the city and the Pueblo Bulls Hockey Club for the latter to manage, operate and promote the Pueblo Ice Arena, where the Bulls play.
According to the wording of the proposal, the city, through its general fund, would pay the club – to make up for losses – for four years (with no payment in the fifth year), before the club begins lease payments in the sixth. year.
The payment structure requires the city to pay the club $300,000 in year one, $225,000 in year two, $150,000 in year three and $75,000 in year four. There is no management payment in the fifth year.
The club’s lease payments to the city would begin at $5,000 per month on August 29, 2027 (year six) before increasing to $5,500 in August 2028 (year seven). Each payment would go into the city’s general fund.
At the start of the sixth year, the monthly payment rate is further negotiated between the city and the club. After the seventh year, the rate may increase every two years based on Consumer Price Index percentages.
After the end of the initial five-year period, the city has three separate five-year options, allowing it to renew the agreement at the end of each five-year period.
“We see that as – (the club) can do different types of events, and when they start paying rent, we can start at least making a profit on the facility,” said Steven Meier, director of parks and recreation for the city of Pueblo. “In the beginning, we have to help them get up and roll.”
The city subsidizes nearly $300,000 of facility expenses each year. He receives about $270,000 in annual income.
“We don’t bring enough money to cover the expenses there,” Meier said.
The management deal comes nearly four years after the city approved a facility rental agreement with the Pueblo Bulls. The Bulls have been the facility’s primary tenant, playing in the Premier Conference, a Tier III junior league, in the United States Premier Hockey League.
The facility is experiencing extended downtime outside of the traditional junior league season, prompting Pueblo Bulls owner Jerry Wilhite to pursue the management deal with plans to modify the Pueblo Ice Arena into a multi-purpose facility.
Wilhite and the club expect the facility to become profitable within three to five years.
“We want to make it a revenue generator rather than a liability,” Wilhite said.
The club’s versatile plans include hosting events such as bull and sheep riding, concerts, mixed martial arts and boxing cards, trade shows and exhibitions, balls, weddings and more again, according to the club’s management proposal to the city.
Wilhite said he was approached by an individual, whose name he did not reveal, who offered to rent the arena ice for a weekend in April after the club’s junior and youth seasons. He said such proposals could generate between $20,000 and $30,000 per weekend as another source of income.
The club would continue to run its youth program and would like to adopt a figure skating program, Wilhite said, with plans underway to discuss details with a representative from the USA Figure Skating Foundation.
The club management group should create an independent hockey club made up of local high school students who do not have the opportunity to participate in university programs.
“I believe (a multi-purpose facility) can be an asset from a money-making perspective for the city and not cost the city money, but also a place for the kids to go to prevent them to get off the streets and do things that might get them in trouble,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite had previously turned down a proposal from several investors to build a double-track ice rink in Pueblo West.
“I love the establishment. I love where we are located,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite hired a team of consultants to review the town’s proposed tenant improvements prior to the management agreement. The proposed improvements are in three phases and anticipate a total cost of over $6 million.
Wilhite said he has not made any requests to the city at this time for financial support for the improvements. He added that the club planned to hold internal discussions on whether to raise funds independently or possibly negotiate a public and private financial partnership with the city.
To date, the club has invested $75,000 in improving the rink.
“In our past working relationship with them, they really showed us that they are very aggressive,” Meier said. “They know what they are doing. They are impatient and want to promote Pueblo, and I think the risks are minimal.
The Bulls opened a clothing and pro store on West Fourth Street last month. The club has a three-year lease with Spangler’s Carpets & Draperies, which owns the building, and will sell apparel and tickets for the 2022-23 season and hockey equipment at a later date.
Chief Reporter Josue Perez can be reached at JHPerez@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @josuepwrites.