CEDAR RAPIDS — Struggling to make ends meet at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, officials are adding a virtual-reality arcade to help generate extra money, attract new visitors and allow the city-owned arena to be less dependent on hockey attendance from the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
A six-booth virtual reality arcade has opened in the lobby of the arena, 1100 Rockford Road SW, where patrons can participate individually or in multiplayer mode in a library of 14 games, including Beat Saber, Arizona Sunshine, Job Simulator and VR Battle Grid.
The games run the gamut from scenic flights through landscapes, problem-solving puzzles, shooting bows and arrows, surviving a zombie apocalypse, touring through foreign lands via Google Earth and other motifs.
“We think it is cutting edge; it is right for the audience and we’d really like to try it,” Mike Silva, manger for VenuWorks, which operates the ice arena for the city, told the city’s finance committee earlier this year when pitching the idea.
The cost is $15 per 30-minute block with an the ability to switch games at no additional cost. Memberships also are available.
Hours of operation will be 3 to 10 p.m. daily with potentially more hours based on demand. This weekend, patrons can get $5 off, said Katie Ripke, marketing director for VenuWorks, She urged people to check its website — CRIceArena.com — and its Facebook page for the latest hours because they plan to open early during some special events and for games.
“We think this will help us draw a new crowd of people to the arena,” Ripke said.
The city budgeted $35,000 for the project with the primary costs being for technology, television screens and computers, Silva said.
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The city awarded a contract to VRCade of Dubuque to provide the equipment, game licensing, maintenance and repairs, and to train staff to run the booths. VRCade keeps 35 percent of net revenue after sales tax and labor, according to Silva and city paperwork.
Silva predicted if 2 percent of arena visitors participate, the arcade could generate $50,000 to $65,000 a year. The arena sees about 200,000 patrons per year.
Silva and city leaders view the virtual reality set up as a temporary infusion while the technology remains popular but too expensive for the public to have in their homes. The model is tested so the risk is minimal and the return is promising, they said.
“It’s just our way of trying to reinvent ourselves a little bit at the ice arena and see how it goes,” city Finance Director Casey Drew said at the same meeting in April. “Obviously, things like this do have short shelf life; they don’t last forever as technology gets less and less expensive and people can start having things like this at their homes and private demand goes down. But, we feel like for this interim period of time, it’s not a bad idea to give it a try.”
The city forecasts subsidizing the arena to the tune of $124,000 annually. But in the past couple of years. revenue has dipped and led to a shortfall of more than $200,000, figures show.
As the ice arena gets older, more maintenance work is needed and electricity costs have increased by about $40,000 annually. But flagging hockey game attendance has been the biggest culprit of the financial gap, Silva said. The RoughRiders are a semiprofessional USHL hockey team.
“A lot of this ties back to Roughrider attendance,” Silva said. “A lot of our food and beverage revenue is dependent on attendance at games, tournaments, and other programming. So the Roughriders had two rough years. Attendance was off by about 10,000 from the previous years.”
He provided a rough estimate of a $100,000 drop, and added it follows a leaguewide trend.
Attendance at public skates and smaller events continue to grow, group business is up and new concession stands also are expected to help grow revenue, he said. The city is exploring selling naming rights for the arena, and a proposal has been made for $1.5 million in updates, including decks in end zones, and a new website.
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“My goal as the ice arena manager is to find some financial independence from the way it is now, and if they have a great year, then we can tuck it away for a rainy day,” Silva said.
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