CADILLAC — Since last March, life has been significantly different for everyone regardless of your job, income or where you live.
So when COVID-19 first hit in the United States and Michigan, the Wexford County Civic Center was not immune to the changes it brought with it. Like other people, places and things, the Wex has had its share of concerns and hardships since the global pandemic started. It includes shutting things down, reducing staff to skeletal levels and reducing utilities to reduce cost, according to Boon Sports Management and Friends of the Wex spokesperson Mike Figliomeni.
While the spring had the facility shut down, Figliomeni said the focus became summer maintenance. It is usually a slower time for the facility so, BSM decided to double-down on that. Once restrictions started to loosen, Figliomeni said it was decided to open the facility up a month earlier. That meant starting the busy fall and winter season in September instead of reopening in October. It was, in part, due to Wexford County and the Northern Michigan region having fewer restrictions.
"There was a demand for ice for tournaments, that normally happen outside of Cadillac, and for teams who wanted to practice. We got a month of income that we wouldn't have had," he said. "Then the youth hockey and normal ice arena events took off, but with restrictions."
Despite the restrictions, he said BSM was willing to do whatever it needed to keep the doors open and people safe. That meant limiting the number of people who were allowed in the facility and its locker rooms. That, however, changed as things started to tighten back up later in the fall due to the increase of cases in the state, as well as, locally.
Figliomeni said now BSM is eagerly awaiting Jan. 15 as that is the end of the current restrictions that were extended.
"We got a little more revenues because of the early opening, but they shut off. Revenues have been devastated. One staff member has the health department on speed dial for every possible usage of the arena and the auditorium while still meeting the strict restrictions," Figliomeni said.
Figliomeni said while not completely open, the auditorium and ice arena are used. Both are used for individual workouts, training and exercise, but ultimately it is not having a financial impact. The only thing it is allowing is for the public asset to be used. Again, Figliomeni said the bottom line is that revenues for the facility have been devastated and it is nearly impossible to plan future events.
While things like the Governor's Breakfast have not yet been canceled, Figliomeni said it is unknown if it will happen this year. It also is uncertain if any annually scheduled things will occur or when things will return to normal. He said the only constant since last March is that the pandemic dictates everything and that whatever restrictions are imposed will be followed to a "T."
"What we have been able to do over the years is we save our pennies and save those pennies in order to spend them on capital improvements or maintenance that comes up," Figliomeni said. "We have a small rainy day fund that we have put together and we are looking to that to budget through what will be a relatively slow season and into the slow revenue season."
With the need to use those savings to help get the facility through this time, Figliomeni said it only makes sense that those dollars won't be there for their intended purpose — maintenance and capital improvements. To help, Figliomeni said the goal is to stretch the current season and ice time, based on demand for youth and adult hockey, past the normal end in late March.
The takeaway for the public from everything BSM is doing is to allow for the facility to be used by the public as much as possible during the pandemic.
"It makes us (BSM) sad to think that there are users of this facility, especially the kids who are not able to use it and potentially don't have a lot of recreation activities available to them," he said.
Figliomeni said amid the pandemic BSM spent a "significant amount of money" on mechanical and structural engineering before the upgrades are made.
He also said BSM just received those documents back to put into the request for proposals, which will be published and finally allow for the HVAC project to be finished. He said the engineering needed to be completed before the Department of Natural Resources grant project could be completed.
In December 2019, Michigan DNR Director Dan Eichinger sent correspondence to Wexford County, Networks Northwest, and the Alliance for Economic Success saying their application to receive a Recreation Passport local development grant was approved. The application asked for $95,000, which is the amount of the grant.
The application for the grant funding was made to help pay for the replacement of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in the Wex’s auditorium. The HVAC system, which dates back to the 1970s in the auditorium, is one of the most critical needs at the facility, according to Figliomeni.
A local match between $30,000-$35,000 also was needed, which was generated by several donations.
The Rotary Club of Cadillac voted to use money generated from the annual Rotary auction to help BSM purchase new HVAC equipment. The Rotary presented BSM with a check for $32,250. The Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau also pledged to invest $5,000 to assist with the needs of the facility, while the law firm of McCurdy, Wotila, and Porteous challenged the Cadillac Men’s Hockey Program to raise funds. The law firm said it would match dollar for dollar any funds raised by the men’s hockey program up to $10,000.
Together the two raised $24,000 to go toward the Wex. The Wex also received $10,000 as part of the Kraft Hockeyville USA 2019 competition.
"The RFP document is pretty well prepared. The county administrator (Janet Koch) is reviewing some documents now and it should be approved for publication in the next 30 to 45 days," Figliomeni said. "We are thinking about late winter or early spring for the work. It's all dependent on where the bids come in and we hope we will be within the funding levels."