HOULTON, Maine — Determined to cut losses and make the facility more profitable, town councilors on Monday evening completed membership on an advisory board focused on crafting a more profitable future for the Millar Civic Center.
During the approximately one-hour-long meeting, councilors appointed the final members to the newly formed board, which is tasked with creating a viable game plan for the 14-year-old 24,200-square-foot center.
The Millar Civic Center houses an ice skating rink in the winter and is used for other events, including trade shows, wedding receptions, concerts and other events during the remainder of the year. While it is one of the hubs of the community, councilors and some taxpayers have expressed concern about how much money it is costing to run each year.
Five months ago, the council decided an advisory board was needed to generate ideas on how to decrease costs, increase revenue and better market the facility.
With salary for management, it costs $200,000 a year to run the center, which was rebuilt in 1999-2000 after its roof collapsed under the weight of snow in 1998.
The bulk of the operating cost — 58 percent — is for electricity use, according to Town Manager Doug Hazlett. Revenue in 2010 paid only half of the operating costs.
While the facility can hold 3,260 people, it is too small for large concerts and shows. The majority of its revenue comes from rental income and concession profits. A local hockey club and the Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks hockey team are the primary renters, and the facility also brings in income from public skating. The hockey club and teams are paying $100 an hour for ice time this year.
Town officials have suggested that they could increase profit margins by charging more for ice time, offering more public skating hours, attracting additional users and doing a better job at marketing the facility. Hazlett said that the Presque Isle Forum charges $110 an hour for ice time, and they charge the user an additional amount for the labor needed for each particular event. Houlton does not.
On Monday evening, Hazlett said that one of the first priorities of the board will be to create a new website for the center that will have information about space and availability, rental fees and items such as feedback from past users. Hazlett said that by the end of this season, the town will have a breakdown of concession revenue compiled so officials can see which foods are the most profitable and which items the town is losing money on.
Getting the most out of the building when it is not being used as an ice rink also is being explored. The town has held several events in the building during its annual agricultural fair that proved popular, including laser tag and BMX bike shows.
Councilor Mike Jenkins said on Monday that he understood the town probably would never make a big profit from the center, but he did not want to continue to see a big loss of money year after year either.
Chairman Paul Cleary said he felt that some of the financial issues could be rectified if the town sunk more money into marketing. At this point, the town doesn’t have any money budgeted for that task. He said whenever officials tried to include a marketing line item, it was always deleted. Cleary said he felt that needed to change.
He also said he realized the center likely would never be a big moneymaker for the community.
“But let’s not lose money,” he said on Monday evening. “I’d like to at least break even.”