MV Ice Arena leaders reimagine a new facility, purpose

The MV Arena is adjacent to the Y. — Michael Cummo

In February, stakeholders in the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena applied to MVYouth (MVY) for funding for a major overhaul to the ice rink. The newly formed nonprofit had $1 million to give away but set a high standard of organizational performance.

The arena stakeholders came up empty. But their presentation sparked interest among MVYouth board members who suggested ways in which the arena organization might proceed.  

“Their presentation put the arena on our radar,” Lindsey Scott, executive director of MVY told The Times. “The prospect has motivated some very productive conversations.”

Arena leaders presented the MVYouth board with a study completed in November, 2014, by Stevens, a specialized ice rink consulting and design firm based in Wisconsin. The top-to-bottom evaluation of the arena pointed out numerous deficiencies and outdated equipment, some of which has to be phased out by 2020 due to “adverse environmental effects.” The study concluded that a roughly $2.7 million investment, possibly more depending on the extent of the renovations, was needed to squeeze another 30 years out of the aging facility.

As the conversations continued, the objective for arena leaders shifted from renovating the existing arena to building a new one, with the current arena being repurposed for other sports, such as indoor track and indoor soccer.

“They are moving forward with exploring possibilities,” arena stalwart Bob Mone, who was present at the presentation, told The Times. “Not specifically MVYouth but some of the people involved with them. They were very impressed with our presentation. They told us they’d prefer to build a new rink than try to fix the old one.”

Mr. Mone agrees with the assessment.  “It’s 30 years old or more and it’s tired,” he said. ”The list of repairs is a mile long. It would take at least $3 million to fix. A brand-new building with solar roof would be fabulous. We’ve been kicking the idea around forever, but they contacted us and said they’d like to explore the possibility and seem very committed to it.”

“They were very clear about what they wanted from us and they were very encouraging,” attorney and arena board vice president Geoghan Coogan told The Times. Mr. Coogan said the current estimate on a new ice arena is at least $4 million but the final figure will most likely be higher.

YMCA involvement

As a result of the MVY application process last year, a series of ongoing exploratory conversations between the arena and the YMCA was also set in motion, according to Mr. Coogan. “We’ve basically laid out a schedule over the next six months to keep meeting and discussing the various parts of what it would take to move forward,” he said.

The Martha’s Vineyard YMCA sets a high bar for organizational strength and a business-like approach to nonprofit operations, he added. “You’ve got a paid executive director, you’ve got paid fundraising people, you’ve got paid programming people,” he said.  “The rink basically has one full-time employee who’s been trying to do all that. The rink has always sustained on volunteering. Moving forward, there aren’t as many volunteers as there used to be. So you need to make sure this thing is there for the next 30 years.

“The stability that the Y brings could be huge. The donor base that’s investing a sizeable amount of money in a project wants to see the kind of management that the Y can bring. Giving $4 million to an all volunteer organization isn’t exactly fiscally responsible.”

Mr. Coogan said that while there are examples around the country of a YMCA running an ice rink, that would not be the case here.

“It would never be the case when you had to belong to the Y to use the rink,” he said. “Like Alex’s Place, you don’t have to be a member of the Y to go there. It would remain a community, nonprofit rink.”

Mr. Coogan said the conversion of the old arena would dramatically expand winter activity offerings. “It’s not just a rink, not just a Y, it would be for all kinds of sports in a campus setting.”

Mr. Mone agrees with the concept. “The Y has the land, they have the technology, and they have architects that have done rinks,” Mr. Mone said. “Working together can produce all kinds of benefits, not just administratively. Making ice creates a lot of heat. That heat could be transferred into the Y’s swimming pool.”

“We serve a lot of the same people, there’s a lot of overlap,” Martha’s Vineyard executive director Jill Robie told The Times. “The mission of each YMCA is to serve the specific needs of the community, whatever the needs may to be and the arena seems like a place where a collaboration of resources could really benefit our community.”

Mr. Coogan has deep ties to the Island hockey community. “I grew up playing hockey when there were no sides on the rink and snow was blowing across the ice,” he said. “I’m very personally invested in this.” In addition to serving as vice president on the arena board, he is director of the Island youth hockey program where his son now plays.

Ice aged

The arena opened in January 1980 as an outdoor rink. It was built by a group of dedicated volunteers who patched it together with grassroots funding and donated labor and materials. It was fully enclosed in 1992. The facility has spawned a long tradition of youth and adult hockey programs, and successful travel teams and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys and girls programs. Today, 180 children play youth hockey alone. The arena also hosts seniors skating programs, the Martha’s Vineyard Figure Skating Club, recreational skating, and a wide range of clinics for all ages.

The Arena is a cornerstone of the recreational community on the Island. But despite best efforts, it’s falling apart. It’s an energy sieve: the cost to make and maintain ice in the leaky building is enormous, and going up.

The new arena would appear to fit the MVY criteria as an investment in a capital project that benefits the community, in particular the youth population, which does not compete with another Island non-profit organization.

Organizational strength is equally important. Ms. Scott said that MVYouth looks to provide “last dollar in” financing, so a large capital project, such as a new ice arena, needs to be well underway to qualify for MVYouth funding. “It needs to have great leadership, it needs to have a very clear plan, it needs to have been endorsed by the community on many levels already,” she said. “MVYouth is very sympathetic to the needs of the arena, for sure. We’re watching carefully to see how they mobilize and get community momentum.”

MVY co-founders Jim Swartz and Dan Stanton are Edgartown summer residents who have long histories of supporting causes that help young people. Both men have also been extraordinarily successful in business. Mr. Stanton is a retired partner from Goldman, Sachs & Company. Mr. Swartz founded Accel Partners, a global venture capital firm. Mr. Swartz was also a strong supporter of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and served as co-chairman of its capital campaign.