GLENS FALLS -- Glens Falls Mayor John “Jack” Diamond said Wednesday the time has come to consider an option he once said he would never consider: Close the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“It’s too early to push the panic button right now,” Diamond said in an interview at City Hall.
But if the city is not able to recruit a new American Hockey League tenant by April 2014, city officials will consider that option, he said.
Paul Pontiff, president of the Glens Falls Civic Center Foundation, a volunteer support organization, said he hopes the city doesn’t have to face that decision.
“I would hate to see something like that happen. And I’m still hopeful that among all of us we would be able to generate enough interest to have another team here from the AHL,” he said.
Diamond said that right now, the outlook for recruiting another AHL team does not look promising.
“I’ve made some calls, but my calls have not been returned,” he said.
Diamond said he sees little chance of recruiting a new team unless there is support for the Adirondack Phantoms next season.
The Phantoms, which have made the Civic Center its home ice for the past four seasons, are expected to relocate for the 2014-15 season to a new arena being built in Allentown, Pa.
Amid the uncertainty of the future of hockey, support for the team has lagged.
Chris Porreca, the team’s executive vice president, said Tuesday that season ticket sales were at about 35 percent overall of where they were at this time last year.
Diamond said that corporate sponsorships for next season are also off sharply.
Hockey fans have told him they are disgruntled with the caliber of the team and with the uncertainty about the future, but the reality is that unless ticket sales and sponsorships improve, no other ownership group will consider the Civic Center, he said.
Diamond said his decision to consider closing the arena is not a ploy to increase ticket sales.
He said he will continue efforts to recruit another team, and if a team is not recruited by the end of next season in April 2014, city officials will conduct an analysis of options for the arena that would include closing it or seeking to attract some other type of anchor tenant, such as a professional basketball team.
This is assuming Diamond is re-elected to a second four-year term in November. Diamond is running for re-election, but does not have opposition, so far.
Diamond said city officials would hold public forums, similar to when the city decided several years ago to hire a private firm to manage the arena.
“We’re going to engage the public,” he said.
Diamond, at one point in the past, said he would never close the Civic Center.
In December 2010, 3rd Ward Councilman Scott Watson suggested the city should consider closing the arena if the city subsidy was not dramatically decreased in a few years.
Diamond said at that time he would not consider closing the arena.
“I want to clear the air on that, That’s not an option for me,” he said at the time, referring to closing the building.
Diamond said Wednesday his position has changed because of the state tax cap and because of the financial condition of the city.
The city budget simply can’t absorb any dramatic increase in subsidy to the city-owned arena, he said.
A $605,360 subsidy from the city’s general fund is budgeted for 2013.
The subsidy likely would increase dramatically without hockey, which accounts for a large block of the arena’s events.
Pontiff, of the Civic Center Foundation, said he remains hopeful city officials will recruit a new AHL team.
“And I think until we find out that’s a dead issue, we need to keep moving in that direction, because I think it’s extremely important for the community that the Civic Center remain a viable facility within the area,” he said.
Pontiff said there may be multiple reasons why season ticket sales and corporate sponsorships are lagging.
“Perhaps the economy has something to do with it,” he said. “But I think also that people look at this team as a temporary fix, basically, for the team ownership. ... I think the community may look at this as something which they can’t get their arms around in terms of this team.”
The caliber of play is another factor, he suggested.
In four seasons in Glens Falls, the Phantoms have not made the playoffs, he said.
Diamond said he will continue to attempt to recruit a team.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., during a visit to Granville on Tuesday, offered to assist the city with its recruitment effort, Diamond said.
David Andrews, president and chief executive officer of the AHL, said it’s premature to speculate about the city’s chances of recruiting a new team for the 2014-15 season.
“The critical thing, at least from our perspective, is that the business needs to remain strong there,” he said.
He wouldn’t rule out Glens Falls recruiting another team.
“Depending on where people are looking and what’s available in terms of markets, I think Glens Falls is still a viable market,” he said.
Post-Star hockey writer Diana Nearhos contributed to this report.