Rink of Dreams
…and Other Small Town Nightmares
A Family Sold At Auction
…and a promise kept
Auctions can be so cool. There are many these days; eBay, fundraisers. Seems there’s an auction for every appetite. With the internet, one can find an online auction at the click of a mouse. The ones I like are the old fashioned ones; an auctioneer, bidders jockeying; the drama.
I attended one of these live auctions on December 15th 2006. I registered as a bidder, which made me a little nervous. The Sheriff’s Deputy signed me in, verified my funds and gave me a bidder’s card displaying a big number ONE. After a time, the sale started. The Deputy made a few announcements and asked if there was an opening bid. I held up my bidder’s card, pointing it at the Deputy and then the attorney. Just to clarify, I said, “I think this means I’m number one.”
All eyes were on me as I scanned the balance of my checkbook. After deducting the check I wrote earlier for the family Christmas tree, I had my number:
“I bid $463.40”.
Although there was an odd pause at that point, the auctioneer Deputy acknowledged my bid with direct eye contact and a slight smile. He appeared to take a deep breath, and asked if there were any other bids. The well-dressed lawyer took a step forward. Although he didn’t have a numbered card, it appeared he was a serious bidder. In a formal and deliberate manner, he announced his client’s bid of 6.9 million dollars. After recognizing the latest bid, the auctioneer looked back to me asking if there were any other bids. I reviewed my checkbook one more time, but realized I didn’t have 6.9 million dollars as an available balance. Disappointed, I shook my head.
And that was that.
I took a moment to thank the auctioneer, and to congratulate the attorney on his victory. I said goodbye to the two other observers in the empty building. As I headed towards the ice arena exit, I reflected on the events of the past decade that led to this day. A warm peace surrounded me knowing I had kept a promise, but I will talk about that later. Only the day before, a tidy report in the local newspaper announced the ice arena I built and opened to skaters and hockey players a few years earlier was being sold at public auction. In a neat 268 words – about the length of a standard Letter to the Editor – the reporter appeared to provide a summary of the rise and fall of a local developer, a pretty common occurrence in today’s business world.
Even with the story buried in the bowels of the paper, I assumed this would be a big event. How could it not be of interest to the locals? After all, my ice arena was one of the largest public-private projects in the region’s history. It was the first commercial building erected in Bremerton in over thirty years. It was the first domino in what became a sweeping revitalization makeover for the city. And heck, the place had been enjoyed by literally thousands of residents since it opened. So many happy kids I couldn’t possibly count. For these reasons alone, I thought the auction would attract major attention – or at least some curiosity – from the community. But there was an even larger reason for it being a big deal, which is best explained by a conversation I had with a journalist from the very same newspaper three years earlier.
In the early going of the ice arena development, all the way through my departure in the summer of 2004, the newspaper was a barrage of well, news. The printed word was flying with in-depth reports, letters, opinions, and healthy doses of everyone’s two cents. When I asked Eric Williams, beat reporter for the Kitsap Sun, why all the coverage, he carefully explained it was necessary to cover the arena because it was a public interest issue. Even though the building and business were privately owned (by me and my wife) the rink was located on public land, and the city had contributed taxpayer funds towards construction. This core reason caused the story to be in the interest of the taxpayers and constituents.
Made sense to me, yet I did protest to the reporter that the stories often carried key omissions and edits which I believed were hurting my business, which, in the end, means lost revenue to pay the bills. At the time, I believed the secret to success in this and any business was income. I was convinced that the most challenging part of business – especially a brand new enterprise – was the revenue factor. I was taught that if the revenue is there, any accounting type can oversee and control costs. A business consultant I highly respect once told me that an entrepreneur can find a “bean-counter” out of the Yellow Pages who can reel in and manage costs in a snap. The type of business doesn’t even matter; accounting is accounting. The rare bird is the passionate revenue creator – the one who can produce a powerful and consistent income stream from scratch.
Sure enough, my Yellow Pages contained hundreds of Accountants and Bookkeepers, but not one Passionate Revenue Creator.
Leaving the rink and strolling through the parking lot, I looked back. There stood the familiar and friendly Bremerton Ice Arena façade, and there also stood the deepest regret and sorrow of my forty-eight years. For the multi-thousandth time over the past three years, the newsreel headline played over and over in my head: Had I not risked it all to build this rink, I wouldn’t have lost it all for Deb and the boys.
A broken man is indeed a haunted soul.
The three-hour drive to my new home seemed like a forgotten minute by the time I walked in the front door. As was typical, one of my 17 year-old twin boys ignored me as he played a video game. I interrupted him during the zinging and zapping chaos and once again pulled out my checkbook. The teenager finally looked up and I saw him when he was 10, playing with his twin brother in my back yard in August of 2000. The epiphany that hit me back then
– Could one regular guy build an ice arena for the kids? – caused me to promise my boys that I’d
do it, somehow. I’d build an ice arena in Kitsap County. Not just talk about it; do it. After I lost the rink to foreclosure a few years later, I promised them I’d do everything I could to get it back.
I proudly held up my checkbook, and showed him the available balance. I announced I finally fulfilled my promise to him. I tried to buy back our arena with everything I had. I gave it everything I had – to the penny.
He chuckled at the amount, but there was a glance of seriousness in him as he looked me in the eye. He seemed to be reflecting on the past few years in our family’s life, before quietly resuming his game.
And if only for a moment, I felt good inside.
To be continued…