New challenge for the Pettit National Ice Center after the COVID-19 pandemic
The Pettit National Ice Center has rebounded well from the quarantine, closure and loss of fan revenue for the Olympic Trials. She now faces another financial challenge: rising gas prices.
But all things considered, executive director Randy Dean said the rink and the 30-year-old nonprofit oval, training center and community facility are in relatively good shape after suffering some financial hits over the past year. the two-year COVID-19 pandemic. , with the very first drone races last April and skating camps Last week.
“The past two years have been unusual, and I think we’re finally – hopefully – getting back to a sense of normalcy,” Dean said.
The 2020 pandemic forced the Pettit to close like all other non-essential buildings in March 2020. It reopened later that summer, in stages and with limitations, but at least the two indoor rinks were available for hockey while athletes and employees followed everything. City of Milwaukee health protocols. When the Pettit closed its financial year at the end of August, the net loss for the year was $93,000.
Even still, the Pettit upgraded its HVAC filter system to have the best chance of minimizing the spread of COVID among athletes and employees and had no incidents, Dean said.
“We renew the air in the building every 30 or 40 minutes. That’s a lot of air to try to make it safe,” Dean said. “But that was the only sense of normality that some of these young people had.”
With the help and additional fundraising efforts of Bonnie Blair Cruikshank and her husband Dave Cruikshank and their supporters, the Pettit could afford to relocate the ice oval, even though it was only a month away. approximately later than usual, in October 2020.
“They didn’t want any of the speed skaters to miss practice, so they raised money for that,” Dean said. “They’ve done an amazing job of covering those costs and allowing speed skaters to at least feel a sense of normalcy and routine.”
After a sort of normal 2021 season – public skating was very strong in the 2021-22 season, as were skating school numbers – the Pettit was set to host the 2022 US Olympic Speed Skating Trials during the first week of January.
But the omicron variant of COVID-19 not only increased infection rates in our region in January, hospitals were filling up and caregivers were treating patients to the max. A few days before the tryouts, which were sold out for the main events at 1,400 fans per day, fans were notified that they could not attend. The sport’s governing body, US Speedskating, has ruled that fans cannot attend, but the trials could continue as planned, in hopes of protecting the athletes.
It was a costly blow for the Pettit, which had already invested $35,000 in preparation for the event that could not be canceled or refunded, and had already sacrificed lost revenue from public skating and other hockey activities to the time of the tests which were cancelled.
Officials asked fans to consider donating their ticket to the Pettit anyway, and about a quarter of them did, Dean said, which helped offset the costs. The remaining three-quarters of ticket holders have been refunded.
All in all, it still resulted in an estimated loss of $80,000 in tryout ticket revenue, Dean said. US Speedskating helped by providing around $50,000 to cover the shortfall.
“It was helpful,” Dean said. “It was a tough call for American speed skating. They stood by us and we appreciated that.
Speed Skating and Pettit sponsors and donors also came which helped. Dean said the Pettit is holding on financially, even with internal renovation projects.
And some of them include improving energy efficiency with the help of Rockwell Automation.
Dean said that in addition to the increased cost of labor, the tripling of the cost of natural gas is already concerning because it powers the refrigeration system with both electricity and natural gas.
The Pettit is already near or above budget for electric and gas and well above the costs of a year ago. Dean said he estimates natural gas alone will cost $100,000 more in the 2022-23 season.
“Rockwell helped us with an operating system that allows us to be more precise in how we handle refrigeration and HVAC and all of those things,” Dean said. “So they’ve saved us a lot of money over the years.
“We’ll even have to tweak a bit more, maybe make it a bit colder with less heat in the winter. We’ll see how often we resurface and other things as well.”
Dean said the Pettit is in good shape and will probably raise prices next year for public skating, but not by much. After staying at $7.50 for eight or 10 years for adults, it could go up to $8.
“We try to keep it affordable,” Dean said. “It was the mission as a non-profit organization, to serve the public with wholesome programs, and then to support speed skating.”