Since a junior A hockey team asked to locate here, some residents have again called the ice arena an expensive facility that caters to a few. They say this tough economy is no time to spend $200,000 on the improvements needed by the team.
But ice arena supporters point out:
-- The facility has become increasingly popular over the years.
-- The city subsidizes other recreation at much higher rates.
-- Employers who look to locate here will consider what amenities the city offers.
Recreation Director Bonnie Davis said the ice rink has become a heavily-used community center. She said it has more use and a longer season than Rockport Pool.
"I think it's a gem," Davis said.
Sometimes, the ice arena schedule is so hectic that the only breaks in the action are the three, 20-minute sessions needed to make new ice.
The arena's busy season runs September through March. But attendance and revenue has been increasing during the summer, as well, Davis said. Summer attendance includes birthday parties, public skate and camps.
"We really serve so many people and so many ages," Davis said.
As examples, she cited the 3-year-old and his mom at the arena during a weekend afternoon, a teen at open skate and adults playing pick-up hockey on Friday nights.
She invited people who think that nobody uses the facility to go visit.
"We have huge numbers," she said. "It's one of the only year-round things that people can do with their families."
Davis said the junior A team would be a perfect fit because team members could practice from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays when other users are in school.
Davis said it's difficult to put exact numbers to the facility's use, so she provided estimates. Like the senior center, she said, a core group of people uses the ice arena. She estimated that number to be about 3,000 at each facility.
But others use the ice arena once or several times a year to bring the total number of participants to about 50,000. For instance, the teen who attends three Friday nights of open skate would be counted three times. That number, again, is similar to the senior center, she said.
Everyday users are those who play hockey and figure skate, for example. But the facility serves a total of 26 groups, including Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, Moms Club and school groups, Davis said.
The city subsidizes all recreation. In 2008, the ice center's subsidy was $85,000, the senior center subsidy was $190,124 and the parks subsidy was nearly $1.4 million.
Jeff Vosters, president of the Janesville Youth Hockey Club, said club members view the city's subsidy of the ice arena as "a drop in the bucket" when compared to what the city spends elsewhere on amenities that don't generate a dime, such as the parks and bike trails.
"These people feel like, yes, this is a great amenity, something that their kids participate in, just like (other kids) go down to the Little League fields or (the Youth Sports Complex).
"I think that it's one of the most-used public facilities and one where the users actually pay to use it," he said.
Vosters said the hockey club continues to grow, with about 180 skaters and about 150 families involved. Club members are at the rink six or seven days a week during the five-month season. But members also participate in camps and games during the summer.
Vosters said the city should look at the bigger picture with the amenities it provides.
When employers look to locate here, they consider what amenities are available for employees. Janesville will have nothing if it says, "No," to every amenity, Vosters said.
Davis said the recreation department's mission is to improve the quality of life for all community residents.
Although it's common for cities to subsidize recreation, she knows recreation is the first thing that people look to cut in difficult economic times.
But in bad times, "That's where we need to shine," Davis said. "With all these people having problems, we need to be able to offer programs at no cost or low cost."