Amy Choate-Nielsen: Oval contract about to expire
Ownership of Oly venue may revert to Kearns
KEARNS Fourteen years ago, the collaborative movement behind building an Olympic speedskating oval in Kearns was idealistic and eager.
Today, with 12 days left until the known future of the Utah Olympic Oval officially expires, things have changed.
The Jan. 1, 2008, expiration of a contract between the Utah Athletic Association and the Oquirrh Recreation and Parks District has been looming since 1993, but both groups are still trying to hammer out negotiations that would help preserve the oval's future, rather than ultimately revert ownership of the facility to Kearns.
The facility has been operating at an annual deficit of $1.5 million, which is paid by the Utah Athletic Foundation, and board members from the Oquirrh Recreation and Parks District are worried residents of their township won't be able to afford that deficit if the contract dissolves on Jan. 1. Instead, the district is trying to strike a deal that would allow the foundation to continue paying or find a new entity to manage the oval.
"Things have changed since 1993," said Alan Anderson, chairman of the Oquirrh Recreation and Parks District board of trustees. "No one knew the numbers at the time. There are a lot of little things that have to be worked out. ... No one projected if the (2002 Salt Lake City Olympics) would make money, it was all before all of the things leading up to the Olympics."
Exactly how the district plans to work out the details and finances of the oval is unclear because every discussion on the long-term disposition of the oval has taken place behind closed doors due to "contract negotiations."
According to Brent Sheets, executive director of the recreation district, the district plans to file an extension to the current agreement that would allow the foundation to continue to operate the oval until a new contract is agreed upon.
The foundation could have opted to terminate the contract in 2003, but it did not.
The district's goal throughout discussions during the past year has been to keep the cost of the oval from falling on Kearns residents. One option that could be included in the agreement could involve a leasing agreement where the foundation leases the facility from the district, Sheets said.
"(The oval) will not be operated by the district at the expense of Kearns residents," Sheets said. "We will not allow that to happen."
The foundation funds the oval and the Olympic ski jump and bobsled park at an annual deficit of about $3.5 million through interest made from a $75 million endowment created by the profits gained from the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
Foundation president and chief executive officer Colin Hilton said earlier this year the foundation had no intention of "walking away from the Olympic oval." But he did not elaborate on the oval's possible future at this point because of ongoing negotiations.
"We're optimistic within a couple of months we'll have a really good long-term, solid agreement between our two organizations," Hilton said. "From my end, I feel really optimistic that we'll get this worked through. Our negotiations have been very good."
U.S. Speedskating relocated its national organization to the oval in 2006, and Anderson says it's important to keep the oval open and functioning as an ice sheet to preserve the Olympic legacy that was started in Kearns."In my mind, (the oval) is good for winter sports development for youths and for the foundation and the fitness center," Anderson said. "What we're faced with is what's in the best interest for the service district, its patrons and the legacy of the Olympic movement, and there are lots of possibilities."
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