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NEW KANKAKEE ICE RINK

KVPD excited by credibility of ice group
Mike Frey , The Daily Journal 

November 18, 2004

Credibility has become a catch phrase connected with the ice rink currently under construction on River Road.

It appears the Kankakee Valley Park District has landed the credibility it desires by making plans to partner with a private firm, Advanced Arenas Inc., on the $7.8 million facility which is scheduled to open next September.

Three members of the Advanced team met with KVPD officials Monday to discuss an agreement to hand daily operations of the rink to the firm.

The trio included Advanced President Kevin Mann, a former college hockey player and coach who formed the company in 1992; Chairman Leon Lekai, a former Wall Street executive who handles the financial end of the operation; and Gino Cavallini, a former pro hockey player who enjoyed a 10-year National Hockey League career with the Calgary, St. Louis and Quebec franchises.

"Teaming with these people gives us instant credibility,'' KVPD Executive Director David O'Connell.

Cavallini's presence reinforces this belief, O'Connell said. He has received assurances that Cavallini will be an active instructor at the site.

Final plans have not been formalized, but O'Connell said the park board gave him permission to work out a consulting agreement with Mann that will likely be approved at the December board meeting. O'Connell added that a long-term agreement calling for Advanced to assume daily operations will probably be acted upon in January.

O'Connell believes an agreement with Advanced gives the ice rink the best chance to succeed. The group operates numerous rinks across the country and has developed a reputation for being among the best in the business. Advanced has also indicated its profit will be based on the revenue the rink generates, and the company would incur any initial financial losses.

Hockey will anchor much of the activity at the rink, and John Bessette, president of the park board, expressed concern that the public viewed the facility as exclusively a hockey venue. 

But Lekai disputed that perception, saying public interest in the rink is vital to its success.

"The first thing you put on the schedule is the public skating times, and you never change those times,'' he said.

Mann added: "Public skating is the key to the ice rink because it brings the public into the building.''

Learn-to-skate programs for both hockey and figure skating will also be featured, and they are considered vital because they stir continued interest in skating.

Advanced representatives have seen the floor plans for the rink, and Lekai described them as "pretty good.'' He indicated Advanced could live with some small features they would have handled differently, and is especially pleased the main office space will be located near the entrance.

One change that may be forthcoming is a second sheet of ice if the rink generates adequate revenue. It will open with a single sheet of ice.

The rink will not provide the only recreational opportunities. A common area will be used for activities such as flag football, lacrosse and roller hockey, and people will have the opportunity to rent space for events such as birthday parties.

Furthermore, Kankakee Community College will operate a fitness center on the second floor of the facility, which is being constructed on KCC property.

These features have swayed Bessette, who initially expressed reluctance at partnering with Advanced.

"From the beginning, I've been a naysayer," he said. "I've completely changed my position."

David O'Connell

Executive Director of KVPD

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