WENATCHEE WORLD — It’s just before 6 on a crisp fall morning, and figure skaters are quietly filing into the Town Toyota Center.
The arena staff has been here for an hour, preparing the ice, cranking up the heaters and getting ready for a full day of activities.
A dry-erase board on the wall lays out the day: figure skating, then lunch-time hockey, a jam-packed afternoon of youth hockey practices, and finishing up with adult recreational hockey late into the evening at the community rink. Next door at the main ice arena, the Wenatchee Wild have their practice, followed by higher-level junior teams. A note at the bottom of the board has upcoming events: Amy Grant concert, a Latino rodeo, and a curling tournament.
There’s hardly a lull in activity at the center from before the sun rises until long after it sets.
The Town Toyota Center is viewed by many in the community as a white elephant, a financial noose around the neck of Wenatchee that is threatening to hang the community with its nearly $42 million construction debt. But while the 3-year-old center is sitting squarely under a dark cloud of debt, it is hardly sitting idle.
STAFF TRANSFORMS ARENA — FROM THE GROUND UP
Bull riding, food booths, Christian music and hockey are a lot to crowd into one arena in less than a week.
It means switching from bare ice to dirt to chairs and back to ice again — and a lot of long nights for the people who have to make the transition.
During one five-day span in September, the Town Toyota Center’s main arena was used for a rodeo on Sunday, a large food show on Wednesday, the Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith concert on Thursday and was the cleared back to bare ice by mid-day Friday for the Wenatchee Wild’s hockey practice.
The Wenatchee World spent the month of September keeping tabs on all the activities that drew people an estimated 15,400 people, not counting parents and others who attended amateur sporting events.
Some things were not so surprising. The Wenatchee Wild hockey team was the biggest draw, with more than 6,000 people attending two games late in the month and another 1,400 at a free Kids Day exhibition game.
Little things — practices for youth and adult hockey teams, public skating, skating lessons, league play — altogether brought in nearly as people as the Wild.
“People in the community say there is nothing going on here. But all they see are the big events,” said Eddy Mattson, the arena’s operations manager. At times, it’s even a little too busy, he said. “We’re busy from 6 in the morning until 11 at night almost every day of the week. There’s hardly any free ice time all day long.”
Mattson said that after three years of operation, the Town Toyota Center is still a new center. It’s new on the concert and events circuit, so many performers still don’t know it’s here. But as word of mouth spreads, some performing groups are starting to request dates at the center — rather than waiting to be asked — and groups that have performed there before are asking to come back.
“Wenatchee really doesn’t know what it has here,” Mattson said. “We have a crown jewel of a building that is busy nearly all of the time.”