Genesis quits as Wichita Ice Center manager after complaints


The City of Wichita plans to change the management of the Wichita Ice Center after thousands of people signed a protest petition against Genesis Health Clubs and owners Rodney and Brandon Steven. (January 14, 2022)

The Wichita Eagle

Genesis came out and Rink Management Service Corp. is back as manager of the Wichita Ice Center.

The Wichita City Council took the action after hearing a parade of facility users with a litany of complaints about lack of maintenance and unpaid bills.

Genesis Health Clubs, owned by Rodney and Brandon Steven, has operated the ice center for more than 10 years in conjunction with a private health club the company has set up on the second floor.

“No one disputes that Genesis could run a health club, but that hasn’t been the case when it comes to center ice,” said longtime Wichita Figure Skating Club officer Jolene Taylor. “It has become clear to us over and over again that management only cares about the health club upstairs.”

She said this was exemplified by an incident in 2020 when the skating club was hosting a major cup figure skating competition, drawing teams from as far away as California.

“Two teams of about 20 skaters were kicked out of their warm-up room at Wichita Ice Center by Genesis management just so one person could take a yoga class,” she said. “This happened despite the fact that we had a contract that the space was going to be used for the event.”

Tony Ries, president of the Kansas Hockey Officials Association, said Genesis is slow to pay referees, even though the company collects the money directly from players through their organizations.

“Since Genesis took over, we’ve had payment issues with them,” he said. “Several times we were 60 days late. We’re not talking a few hundred dollars, we’re talking thousands of dollars. One time it was $12,000. I sent several emails and phone calls to Genesis’ CFO.

Those messages went unanswered, Ries said, so in response officials went on strike and games had to be called off.

A day later, Reese said, he finally had a meeting with the CFO.

“He said, ‘I don’t understand why you even need referees for ice hockey,'” Reese said. “That says something. . . The CFO of Genesis doesn’t understand why we need referees. These are the people who run this rink.

Opponents of Genesis have been backed by a petition, signed by 3,700 people, complaining about conditions at the rink.

Common user complaints include blown lights, rotting floors in the bench area, recurring issues with the Zamboni used to smooth the ice, and non-functioning dashboards.

Genesis did not send anyone to Tuesday’s meeting to defend its performance, although it was the only other bidder to win the contract.

The Steven brothers also own the Wichita Thunder minor league hockey team which practices at the center. The team is behind on payments for its ice time and the city is pursuing that debt, City Manager Robert Layton said.

The fate of the upstairs health club is unresolved. The city made an offer to allow Genesis to continue using the space, but got no response, Recreation and Parks Director Troy Houtman said.

Lou Lombardo, RMSC Regional Manager and former Wichita Ice Center Manager, is committed to maintaining close ties with user groups, including monthly meetings with the rink manager and quarterly visits from him.

The only dissenting vote on the change came from board member Jeff Blubaugh, who objected to a contract provision dealing with first-year operating losses.

From the second to the fifth year of the contract, any losses incurred by the establishment will be covered by RMSC’s monthly management fee of $6,500.

But the contract holds RMSC harmless this first year in recognition that the ice center will need substantial work to bring it up to expected standards, Houtman said.

Layton added that the city will receive monthly reports on expenses and revenues from the ice center to mitigate its financial risk in the first year and that it has the ability to quickly terminate the contract in the event of default.

This story was originally published January 18, 2022 11:36 a.m.

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Senior Reporter Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion is from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other newspapers. He is the father of twins, director of lay servant ministries for the United Methodist Church, and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.

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