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Ice rinks are suddenly a hot idea

   Not satisfied with the generous helping of ice served up by nature, Buffalo Niagara has a wealth of the artificial kind. There are 26 man-made surfaces suitable for hockey in Erie and Niagara counties — most of them backed by local governments.

   This doesn't count recreational skating venues like the Rotary Rink in downtown Buffalo, or the ice at HSBC Arena, which isn't for amateurs (although some nights, that could be disputed).

   The wealth of artificial ice helps keep ice time significantly cheaper than in other upstate cities, hockey league officials say. That, in turn, helps support the popularity of the sport — in the form of youth leagues, adult leagues and fast-growing girls teams.

   Now plans for new rinks are on the rise, especially in outlying areas where the drive to available ice can be lengthy.

   With local governments feeling tapped out, backers are looking for new ways to underwrite rinks. The ideas include public-private financing in Hamburg and volunteer labor in East Aurora.

   But it's unclear how successful the private sector will be in a venture that just doesn't make much of a profit.

   Does the area need more rinks? Who should foot the bill?

   — Fred O. Williams


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