BINGHAMTON, NY — Three years ago, Chemung County took control of a sports arena in downtown Elmira, hoping to sell it soon.
That hasn’t happened. It’s been frustrating at times.
In 2016, leaders in Chemung County were looking for a new owner for minor league hockey’s Elmira Jackals and their home: First Arena.
There was a deal in the works that would keep the team and the arena together. That deal didn’t work out and the Jackals folded at the end of the 2017 season.
First Arena was without a hockey team for more than a year, but this season, there’s a new tenant.
The Elmira Enforcers are more than half way through their first season. I met owner Robbie Nichols before a recent game.
Nichols knows the business. He used to work for the Jackals. He left and bought the Elmira Pioneers baseball team, which he still owns. He came back to First Arena this year, he found a building in need of a lot of work.
“This place was really going down hill,” Nichols said. “Obviously losing their hockey team last year they had no team. They couldn’t make ice. The ice plant was broke. The roof was leaking. The boards were broken. The Zambonis were broke. The forklift didn’t run. The scissor lift didn’t work. They didn’t have enough glass to make an arena.”
Nichols said he’s put a lot of his own money into the arena, but should be reimbursed for a lot of it by the county. The new team is cheaper. The Enforcers play in the Federal Hockey League, that’s a lower-level than the Jackals who played in the ECHL*.
“The ECHL last year teams like Florida, Ft. Wayne, Colorado, they’re spending $4 million dollars on their team,” Nichols said. “It’s just grown too big for Elmira.”
The budget in new league is about $3 million cheaper.
He signed a three-year lease on First Arena. It includes an option to buy. So, does he think he’ll do it?
“It really depends on the deal,” Nichols said “It’s all on the deal.”
The lease is with the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency. The IDA just saw a change in leadership. It’s not clear how that impacts the future of the arena.
As for the team on the ice, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. Elmira has the second best record in the league and the top attendance.
*Corrects to current, official league title