By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
STEVENSVILLE — Berrien County residents are hesitant and eager at the possibility of an enclosed ice rink in Lincoln Township.
At a Lincoln Township Planning Commission meeting Monday night, planners tabled a decision on granting a special use permit that would allow the rink to be built in a residential neighborhood on the southeast corner of Cleveland Avenue and Glenlord Road.
The indoor rink would mean a chance for year-round hockey and skating programs and another attraction for local businesses. However, the arena was met with opposition for nearby homeowners who feel the rink could increase traffic and hamper property values.
The fight for more ice in Berrien County didn’t just begin Monday.
The area is now served by the Howard Ice Arena in St. Joseph, which is a covered – but open air – facility. Local ice enthusiasts for years have lobbied the city of St. Joseph to enclose the arena, but the city has been hesitant to do so.
Parks Superintendent Greg Grothous said to fully enclose the 14-year-old ice arena would be too costly for the city.
“There would be a lot of things that would have to happen,” Grothous said. “It’s not just putting up walls. We would have to change the air handling system and purchase a new Zamboni because of the emissions it puts out. It would probably take a couple million dollars to do it right.”
An ice arena has been on the drawing board for a number of years in Watervliet as part of a county park. In those plans, the county is contemplating a two-sheet enclosed ice rink on property the county owns north of M-140. The property encompasses about 25 acres and the master plan would include parking, green space, a dog park and walking trails.
County parks Director Brian Bailey said they developed the plan in the summer of 2014 for the site of the former Watervliet Paper Co.
With its proximity to downtown Watervliet and I-94, Bailey said it’s a long-term goal that does not have a set timeline.
“We brainstormed what recreation amenity would attract people who are not part of the county offerings at this point,” Bailey said. “We kept coming back to enclosed ice arena. That would be a regional attraction.”
The county ice arena would be about 108,000 square feet and cost more than $18 million – which does not include the park’s amenities or trails.
“Hockey can be a draw. Any place you can get young and elderly folks together is a draw,” Bailey said. “If it’s in an enclosed space with a recreational activity, there’s a spinoff effect in a positive way.”
A new impact
Developer AJ Glowacki has been pursuing the ice rink project for a year and said the 10-acre site near Stevensville could be home to a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot facility.
The proposed rink at 4137 Cleveland Ave. would have a connected parking lot with about 200 spaces and room for about 350 people. With the closest enclosed rinks being in Kalamazoo and South Bend, many hockey enthusiasts are forced to travel long distances when the Howard Ice Arena isn’t operational.
Grothous said a new ice rink could relieve some of the congestion that takes place at Howard Ice Arena. The St. Joseph arena normally opens around Thanksgiving and closes before St. Patrick’s Day.
“I think our rink is at capacity as what we can handle as far as hockey goes,” he said. “It could have a positive impact, but it could pull some of our hockey folks away. Maybe there will be more opportunities for open skate for the public. There’s a lot of unknown at this point. The amount of hockey tournaments could be economically beneficial, too.”
The decision to grant a special use permit falls entirely on the Lincoln Township Planning Commission.
Because it’s not a rezoning issue or include a change to the township’s ordinances, the decision does not have to go to the Board of Trustees. However, the special use permit is not the only layer of protection for residents.
If a special use permit is approved by planners, the developer is also required to submit a detailed site plan for approval. No construction starts until it’s approved.
Glowacki said there have been others before him who have thought about building an enclosed ice rink through private funding. There are several pitfalls to running one, which is why Glowacki said he has spent so much time preparing for such an endeavor.
“An ice rink is a difficult business. It’s not just a turnkey business where you can hand over the reins,” Glowacki said. “You need to have the right person in charge; someone willing to spend a lot of time at the ice rink to put out a decent product and decent program for kids.”