With the Williamsport Outlaws professional hockey team planning to stay one experimental season at Bowman Field, City Council is steadfast the city won't be held financially responsible when the ice rink is torn down and the preparation of baseball season begins.
A bond surety or mechanism of payment that is not part of the organization's insurance policy to cover worst-case costs to repair the playing field of the Williamsport Crosscutters against any damage caused by a rink's impact has been added to the proposed contract.
The Outlaws home season is from late October through early January and no other professional hockey team in the nation will be playing its home games in an outside venue, according to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana. But the rink's removal is expected to deaden grass and require sod to be replaced.
On Wednesday, the finance committee reviewed the plan, giving it a positive recommendation, but required financial assurance to protect the treasured city asset. It also wanted to see a diagram of the ice rink.
Naturally, the committee and council's concerns focused on financial and contractural obligations.
"I think the city needs to see a surety bond, or money put into an escrow account, or a letter of credit from a bank so it's not held in breach of contract with either the Crosscutters, their league or the Philadelphia Phillies," said Council President Bill Hall.
"Our obligation under this contract is to provide the space," said Councilwoman Liz Miele, a member of the committee.
"It's a neat idea to find more ways to use Bowman Field," said Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the committee. "As a dad, I think it's a great opportunity for kids to see hockey and learn how to skate on their own."
Williamson said the city had an obligation to see the contract is signed in the manner it did with the Crosscutters in 2009.
The Crosscutters, in a letter sent to council, don't want exposure to liability for the hockey tenants' use.
Hall agreed, saying a surety bond would be not different than when townships require them from natural gas companies that have the potential to destroy roads using heavy trucks.
"Bowman Field is our valuable city-owned asset," Hall said. "It's about protecting our asset."
Hall considered the hockey team's arrival and ice skating rink a "good test use" of the "under-used stadium."
But he didn't want council to approve an agreement without meeting all contractual obligations.
"I want to make sure we meet contractual obligations we met when we signed in 2009 with the Crosscutters."
"The contract between the hockey club almost mirrors that of the Crosscutters," said J. David Smith, city assistant solicitor. "In fact, the new one would add some provisions."
Many of these provisions were requested by the Crosscutters earlier this week.
They include assurance the hockey organizations are registered to do business with the Department of State.
Smith said that is a matter than can be managed quickly by phone or through a computer.
Secondly, the Crosscutters want to preserve their exclusive use of the offices.
Campana said the Outlaws and non-profit Syracuse Junior Hockey Club, which will oversee the rink's operation, don't want to have offices at the stadium.
"They are seeking office space downtown to rent," Campana said.
The city doesn't want to get into any issues related to the sale of beer.
"Under the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board law if the Crosscutters and Outlaws want to negotiate beer sales, that's up to them," Smith said.
Costs related to winterizing the stadium were discussed.
A $15,000 rental fee will cover some of those expenses but if they exceed that amount, for heating, electric or plumbing, for example, the rest will be drawn from an account reserved for repairs to Bowman Field.
That's part of the city budget, according to Smith, "much as it is with the Crosscutters," he said.
Chris Firriolo, president and head coach of the Outlaws, said the process for field restoration is removing dead sod and installing new sod and seeding the ground. Costs are estimated at 47 cents a square foot or about $10,000 for the Bowman Field project, he said.
He said what's involved is leveling off the playing surface and putting down a pod that is 100 feet by 200 feet. The rink itself is 200 feet by 85 feet, he said. The field is level by putting down plywood and insulation. Then, a floor liner is put down and rubber cooling mats connect to chillers. It takes about five to six days to make ice and it's 1 1/2 inches when its prepared right. When it's the middle of October and temperatures are, hypothetically, at 75 degrees, he said, the system has reflectors put down to prevent ice melt. When it rains, water is pulled off and Zambonis are used and when it snows the snow is plowed off the surface.
"It's a lot like Rockefeller Center in New York City," Firriolo said. "All of this cost is ours. The community project is our risk."
Lou Hunsinger Jr., chairman of the Bowman Field Commission, expressed support for hockey and skating arriving in October, but also misgivings about how it's been handled thus far between the city, Crosscutters and the commission.
He agreed with establishment of a contingency fund to protect the field's surface if there is a problem after the rink is removed.
"Has this been studied fully before a vote, no," Hunsinger said.