Coronavirus costs may put Bowie’s new ice arena on thin ice

The construction of a new $25 million ice arena in Bowie could be on thin ice because of the costs associated with coronavirus in the Maryland city.

Officials in Bowie approved plans last year for a new ice arena to replace the current rink that’s become a 50-year-old maintenance headache.

Millions of dollars have already been spent on the rink that new Mayor Tim Adams said the city can no longer afford to build. Writing in the Bowie Blade last week, Adams blamed the coronavirus and its impact on city finances.

Adams wrote:

“We are at a pivotal time in our city and we must act conservatively with our finances. The hard decision must be made – lose some money now by not building the ice arena but still save jobs, protect service and remain financially sound. Or build an ice rink so that others can skate. I believe it is in the best interest of our City, at this point in our history, to stand strong and vote to be financially sound so that we can stand and skate or debate another day.”

Adams said revenues have flattened, COVID-19 expenses have risen and city wages may have to be cut.

“Now is not the time to invest millions into an ice rink. Now, is the time to manage and protect the financial viability of our city! Now is the time to protect the jobs of our city workers and to ensure the continuation of city services,” Adams wrote.

His comments have city residents who support the rink alarmed, with one robocall from a woman identifying herself as “Mary Miller” asking, “Are you comfortable with the Bowie City Council throwing upward of $12 million in taxpayer money down the drain?”

She called Mayor Adams’ concerns about the revenue impact of coronavirus “a ploy to blind our residents to the mismanagement of their money.”

'Mary Miller' robocall. She opposes canceling the ice rink project.

Even one of the two council members who consistently voted against the project, Michael Esteve, wrote constituents last week to say, “While the city is facing costs related to COVID-19, city revenues have not been seriously impacted.”

While saying he is still not a fan of the project, he said the city estimates it would cost $7.5 million to cancel the contract, which he argued does not make financial sense.

Aiden Gunn, a teenage hockey player from Bowie, has taken to YouTube and Twitter to ask for Gov. Larry Hogan’s intervention.

“Please remind the city of Bowie that kids need to be able to trust their government to stick to their word and not steal their new ice rink while the entire world is turned upside down,” Gunn said in the video.

When the project was approved last year, it wasn’t without controversy. In fact, the initial vote on the project failed, with the council instead moving to send the issue to a citywide referendum.

But a month later the council turned around and approved the project. Even now, there are concerns about whether the ice arena will turn a profit while being more beneficial to people who live outside of the city. And there’s not a clear sense as to how the vote Monday night will go.

Dufour Wolfley, the other city councilman who voted against the project last year, wrote constituents to say he had moved to put the ice rink’s future on the agenda Monday evening, arguing, “This council has not yet affirmed its desires for the ice arena.”

He estimates it’ll cost the city about $500,000 a year to operate the rink.

“Stopping it now would save far more than we’ve lost already,” said Wolfley. “There’s no sense in throwing good money after bad.”

Of the five members of the council who voted to approve the project last year, only at-large councilman Henri Gardner still holds office. He initially voted against the rink.

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