A facility that could launch ice sports to popularity in Utah County might be open next winter at Seven Peaks Resort.

The Provo/Utah County Ice Sheet Authority voted unanimously Monday to build its $7 million Olympic-size ice arena at Seven Peaks. Authority members plan to approve a final development and operating agreement with Seven Peaks owners in two weeks."I think it's a good deal for the taxpayers and a chance to get back some of the money we've been sending off to the Olympic people for all these years," Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert said.

The arena will be built with $7 million in bonds issued by the Provo City Building Authority. The city will repay $2 million of the bonds, Utah County will repay $2 million and the Salt Lake (Olympic) Organizing Committee will repay $3 million after the 2002 Winter Games. The Utah Sports Authority and SLOC will pay almost $1 million in interest.

Instead of one ice sheet as previously planned, the 56,000-square-foot facility at Seven Peaks will have two ice sheets. The extra sheet can be built with the $7 million because Seven Peaks owners are donating the land and parking space.

The ice arena will be owned by the Ice Sheet Authority, but Seven Peaks will have a 14-year lease agreement with two seven-year renewal options. The terms call for Seven Peaks to pay the additional costs of funding the facility with taxable bonds instead of tax-exempt bonds, or a percentage of gross revenue, whichever is greater.

Seven Peaks will cover any operational losses. After the bonds are paid off in 14 years, the Ice Sheet Authority could receive an annual payment if Seven Peaks renews the lease agreement.

Authority members have been reluctant the past few months to approve a deal with Seven Peaks. Many have been concerned about letting a private entity operate a public facility.

However, the proposal approved Monday with Seven Peaks addresses many of those concerns. Seven Peaks originally wanted a 45-year deal but only got a 28-year deal. Seven Peaks must keep fees within 125 percent of those at similar ice arenas in Utah. Most importantly, a community advisory board will be established to ensure that residents and leagues have access to the facility.

"I think they finally realized they're getting a heck of a deal," said Seven Peaks partner Brent McQuarrie.

What really might have turned the tide was a study of comparable ice arenas completed by Provo Recreation Director Roger Thomas. The study shows that arenas that operate separate from other recreational facilities struggle to break even. A single-sheet facility in East Bay Business Park or Riverwoods Business Park, the other proposed sites, would not likely be profitable.

"If you're looking at an ice sheet facility standing alone, it probably won't be very successful," Thomas said.

The city's recreation officials studied all the proposed sites and recommended the Seven Peaks site to the Ice Sheet Authority. The Riverwoods property would cost more than $2 million, and many authority members felt the East Bay location had too much of an industrial atmosphere. All agreed that the Seven Peaks proposal makes sense economically and will be the best facility.

"I think the thing that pushed me over was the parks and rec-re-ation department's recommendation that Seven Peaks is the best site," Provo Mayor George Stewart said.

Seven Peaks partner Max Rabner said authority members finally recognized that the company isn't trying to feast off of a public project.

"We are truly here with the best interests of the community in mind and are trying to come up with something that will benefit the youth," Rabner said.

Once a final agreement is signed, it will take about two months to finish design and bid work. Rabner said construction should begin early next spring and take about eight months to complete.

The facility will be called the Provo City/Utah County Ice Arenas at Seven Peaks but will be marketed as the Ice Arenas at Seven Peaks. The building will be located where the golf course parking lot now sits, a few hundred yards northeast of Seven Peaks Water Park. Eventually, Seven Peaks and the city hope to build a minor league baseball stadium south of the ice arena.