Zoning puts chill on ice rink land in Bethel Park

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Land, and not just what's on it, can be a tricky subject in Bethel Park.

While the issue of whether the district can build a new high school on 80 acres of Church Road property has moved into the Allegheny County courts system, a "For Sale" sign has gone up on an adjoining parcel.

Kratsa Properties, a Harmarville-based development company, has put BladeRunners up for sale. The ice arena, which lists ownership by the Bethel Ice Association, is one of three Kratsa BladeRunners complexes in western Pennsylvania.

"There is an investment group that owns both our Warrendale and Bethel operations, and Warrendale is also currently up for sale," said Jim Lybarger, Kratsa's general manager for ice properties.

"At this time, we're operating as business as usual."

"The hockey community, as a whole in Pittsburgh, is actually on the rise ... it's not an issue of hockey interest. It's just an issue of the buildings themselves being so extremely costly to operate."

The 4.4-acre property has a 2007 county assessment of $2 million.

The BladeRunners property was purchased from the school district 10 years ago for $300,000. At the time, the entire area --where the high school campus sits as well as where the ice arena would be built --was re-zoned as conservation land.

It's a technicality that's come back to haunt the current school board as the district attempts to build a new high school on such land. In May, the municipal zoning planning board rejected its request for a variance.

The former school board also added a clause in the sales contract that stated the district would share a small portion of BladeRunners profits, should the ice rink reach a certain level of financial success.

"The revenues never exceeded that," said Matt Howard, assistant to the Bethel Park superintendent/finance and operations.

"No, I don't think we ever got there," said Dick Rose, the only current school board member who was serving 10 years ago.

"But there were other things in the agreement, such as when it's sold, we have the right to say what the property will be used for.

"We also have a right of first refusal [to buy back the property]."

Because it is zoned as conservation land, its development uses are limited, said Jerry Duke, municipal planner.

Any new development would probably be recreational.

"The [current] owners are hoping the new owners have the same passion for an ice arena," said Mr. Lybarger. "They are hoping and optimistic that it will remain as an ice operation."

Mr. Lybarger said that the Bethel Ice Association has enjoyed a good arrangement with the district.

"I think everyone appreciates our working relationship," he said. "The school has been a great partner with us."

Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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