City to take over interim management of Dubuque ice center

With a second offer falling through, the City of Dubuque will now take over interim management of the city’s ice center.

Starting on Sunday, Sept. 5, the city will begin temporary management of Mystique Community Ice Center, succeeding Dubuque Community Ice & Recreation Inc., or DICE, which in June announced its intention to relinquish its management of the facility by the end of July.

Dubuque Leisure Services Manager Marie Ware said the city’s management of the ice center, which is owned by the city, will likely last at least until the end of the facility’s busy season in May. A transition in management could occur next summer, she said, if the city can find a company or organization that is interested.

“It would be really challenging to make a change in management while in-season,” Ware said.

The center opened in 2010 as part of a development agreement between the city, DICE, the Dubuque Racing Association and Battlefield Dubuque LLC, which later transferred its interest to Northern Lights Hockey LLC.

Under the lease agreement tied to the facility, upon termination of DICE’s lease-holding rights, the city was required to first offer management of the center to the Dubuque Racing Association, followed by Northern Lights Hockey if DRA were to decline. In July, the DRA declined the management offer. In August, Northern Lights Hockey asked for more time to consider the offer.

In the meantime, the city agreed to hire DICE to continue management of the center through August, agreeing to pay DICE up to $225,000 in expenditures for the month.

Ware said the city ultimately chose to decline Northern Lights Hockey’s deadline extension request because the city did not want the center to close in September, and the city needed to commit to beginning the lengthy process of preparing to manage the facility.

“There’s a lot that goes into picking up management of this facility,” Ware said. “You need to have someone who can get insurance, move employees over, get dram shop coverage, get a food establishment license. It was either we make the decision to begin planning for management of the ice center, or it would have to be temporarily closed.”

This arrangement will allow various recreation programs and events planned at the center, including the Fighting Saints hockey team games, to continue during the winter season, Ware said.

Ware intends to present an operating budget for the center to the Dubuque City Council on Sept. 22, though she was unable on Thursday to estimate cost of management. Ware said she couldn’t say for sure how the city will approach seeking new permanent management.

“Right now, I am focused on getting everything figured out, so we can keep the facility running on Sunday,” Ware said. “That is where all of our efforts are right now.”

Officials with Northern Lights Hockey did not return messages asking for comment.

Dubuque City Council Member Danny Sprank said he is disappointed the city is taking over facility management, but he also does not want to see it closed.

“It would be a shame for it to close,” Sprank said. “It’s only a 10-year-old building.”

Keith Rahe, president and CEO of Travel Dubuque, said the ice center acts as a major attraction during Dubuque’s fall and winter months.

“It’s a huge part of what we have to offer as a community,” Rahe said. “You look at what the Fighting Saints do alone. When there is a game, they are filling hotels and restaurants.”