Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 14, 2012

HOPKINS: When built, arena must fill gaps

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It was terrific news when I heard last month that there was some significant movement in building a new ice arena in Lockport. With nearly 70,000 people in eastern Niagara County, it’s hard to believe that the nearest arena is on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield.

There are six total sheets of ice in the county. Two at Hockey Outlet in Wheatfield, two at the Hyde Park pavilion in Niagara Falls and two at Niagara University, all are 20 to 30 minutes away. Unbelievable.

Yet, as exciting as it is to think that there could be two brand new rinks available, the building will have to be used wisely. Many in the hockey community say there isn’t enough ice to accommodate the players. That’s partially true.

There are 19 sheets of ice in Erie County (excluding First Niagara Center) and at least three more are planned, two in downtown Buffalo and there’s talk of one in Clarence, behind Eastern Hills Mall. Erie County has 14 youth hockey organizations based there, and another three based in Niagara County. In terms of participants, some programs are small, others are very large. Youth hockey has several age divisions, from 8-and-under to 18-and-under plus high school and junior levels.

Throw in public skating at some rinks plus figure skating and other skating-related activities, and you have some very busy buildings. There’s not enough ice for all of the hockey players, figure skaters and recreational skaters. During prime hours, that is.

Walk into any arena on a weekday at 10 a.m. and look around. You’ll very likely find it empty. Yet, step into that building after 3 p.m. and you’ll see plenty of activity. On a weekend, rinks start to get busy around

7 a.m. and many of them are still hopping at 10 p.m.

The cost of electricity alone to keep a 200-by-85-foot sheet of ice frozen will be high. Throw in lighting, heating, staff, insurance, maintenance and other overhead, and you can see that an arena is an expensive project. A building that’s idle for several hours during the day still requires many of those costly items.

Many of the ice rinks are municipally owned, so making a profit isn’t important. The key with a privately-owned arena in Lockport — or anywhere for that matter — will be to find a way to get those off-prime hours filled.

Members of the Lockport Ice Arena and Sports Complex group, I’m sure, are acutely aware of the hurdles they’ll encounter.

It won’t be easy, but a rink here will be enticing to hockey players and others who are traveling half an hour or more for their activities.

An arena, managed properly, will also attract enough events that ordinarily don’t come to Lockport to create residual effects; more business at nearby restaurants, taverns and hotels, plus new businesses attracted by the potential customers traveling to their downtown destination.

I wish the Lockport arena group all the best in making the dream come true.

•••

Alex Karras, who passed away Oct. 10, will be remembered by people in many different ways.

To some, he was a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. To others, he was the godfather and adoptive father of Emmanuel Lewis in the 1980s sitcom “Webster.” And to still others — like myself — he was Mongo, the dimwitted brute who spoke in first person in the Mel Brooks classic “Blazing Saddles.”

My lasting memory of Karras is the scene where he’s pressing a dozen or so town folks against a saloon wall with an upright piano. That scene still makes me laugh out loud, even after watching it probably 50 times.

It was a small role, but hilarious. His introduction to viewers came on the heels of the infamous beans-around-the-campfire scene. Chained around the neck, he acted like a rabid dog when his “boss” Slim Pickens approached.

He rode into town on a brahman. He KO’d a horse with one punch. He had a sweet tooth, which proved to be his undoing. Moments after talking about the “choo-choo,” he deadpans “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

When I realized that this was the same man who was the gentle giant in “Webster,” I was floored.

He hadn’t been an active actor in recent years, but he’s still missed.

John J. Hopkins is the managing editor of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at john.hopkins@lockportjournal.com.