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City skates to 15-year deal with Phantoms

Team inks long-term contract to make Covelli Centre home

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Phantoms hockey team signed a five-year extension with two five-year options to continue playing its home games at the city-owned Covelli Centre.

The contract was approved Thursday by the city’s board of control.

“It provides stability to the team,” said Murry Gunty, founder and CEO of Black Bear Junior Hockey Inc., which is 50 percent owner of the team with Bruce and Rori Herman Zoldan owning the other half. “It’s a long-term contract. It’s a big commitment.”

The contract, effective with the 2022-23 season, calls for an increase in rent paid by the team from $3,750 per game to $4,500. Rent then increases annually by 1.5 percent for the life of the deal.

The second five-year contract automatically renews May 1, 2027, unless either side provides written notice on or before Dec. 1, 2026. The other five-year extension is automatic unless either side gives written notice on or before Dec. 1, 2031.

Also, the Phantoms agreed to pay for the facility’s ice plant — which makes and freezes the ice at the rink — to be replaced.

That is estimated to cost about $900,000 to $1.1 million, said Gunty and Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management Group, which operates the center as well as the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and Wean Park for the city.

The ice plant stopped working at the beginning of the year and the center spent about $22,000 per month for the first four months of the year for repairs and rent for a temporary ice plant, Ryan said.

“We were not going to pay a penny for a new plant,” Ryan said. “We could have brought in a temporary plant for Disney on Ice, which is our highest attended event annually. The Phantoms agreed to pay in full for a new plant with the city retaining ownership.”

The plant will be installed around September, he said.

The Phantoms are paying upfront for the plant. The city agreed to consider it a 15-year payment if it ends the team’s contract before the contract and two renewals end. That means if the city ends the contract after 10 years, it would give five years’ worth of the cost of the plant back to the Phantoms.

Also, if the center has to rent an ice plant, the team would pay that cost.

The rent increase “allows us to cover our expenses and hopefully make some money,” Ryan said. “Hockey is not a money-making event for us, but it’s also 30 dates a year, family affordable fun and our suite usage has increased a little bit.”

He added: “We want them. We’re pleased with the agreement and this allows the Phantoms to call the Covelli Centre home.”

Gunty said: “It’s a fair contract. Eric and his team were fantastic. I can’t pretend I didn’t want it to be cheaper.”

The United States Hockey League team has played its home games at the Covelli Centre since 2009. The Phantoms consistently have one of the lowest attendance levels of any team in the amateur league.

Gunty said the Phantoms “try to create an atmosphere that’s fun” in order to attract more fans.

“We like the area and working with Eric Ryan and working with the city,” Bruce Zoldan said. “We want to be a part of the city. We believe the level of hockey can grow and develop. We feel optimistic about the future of the Phantoms in Youngstown. We are staying here in Youngstown and making this a hockey town.”

Zoldan said, “We are happy to be a part of the Youngstown area as we continue to develop more NHL stars and Division I college players.”

The contract continued provisions from the previous deal that the Phantoms get 15 percent of gross sales of concessions during hockey games, pay $15,000 annually in rent for offices at the center and are limited to 27 games a season on Fridays and Saturdays with JAC having the right to give 45 days’ notice three times a year to move dates.

Ryan said the Phantoms have been very accommodating over the years to any date changes.

Phantom Fireworks, Zoldan’s company, has applied to get a sports betting license at the center. It wouldn’t be connected to the hockey team, Zoldan said, but could attract more fans to the games.

“We want to enhance traffic to the building and bring sports-minded people to the facility,” Zoldan said. “Whether it comes to fruition I can’t say. We hope something will break where we’ll have a partnership with a reputable sports book organization. It would bring more traffic downtown.”

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