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Troubled Fairbanks dog mushing group will have races but won't reopen hall

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Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 7:28 pm

FAIRBANKS—The Mushers Hall on Farmers Loop will definitely be closed this winter, but the Alaska Dog Mushers Association is still planning to have a full race schedule.

Just how the struggling, all-volunteer club will pull that off remains to be seen, but that was the decision reached Thursday night in a special meeting to discuss the future of the non-profit mushing organization.

“Right now, as it stands, the race schedule remains the same as was approved at the annual meeting in March,” reported ADMA president Mike McCowan on Friday.

That includes holding the Limited North American Championships on March 14-16 at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds and the Open North American Sled Dog Championships in downtown Fairbanks on March 21-23, as well as hosting the Arctic Winter Games at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds the week before.

However, with a $12,000 grooming debt from last year still looming over the club’s head, along with a substantial loss in revenue generated by its gaming permit for pull-tabs, a decrease in membership and mounting bills, it’s still uncertain how the club will accomplish that, McCowan said.

The board is planning to meet again on Tuesday to discuss the financial future of the club and trail grooming for the coming race season, he said.

The Mushers Hall, meanwhile, will be closed this winter, McCowan confirmed. Citing the costs associated with heating the building versus how much money it generates in rental income, the board of directors in August voted to close the building, located at 4 Mile Farmers Loop, for the winter to save money. The decision was announced last week.

The club has been renting out the big log building to groups for meetings, parties and other gatherings for the last 25 years. The club also uses the building on race weekends.

Club secretary and board member Kathy Fitzgerald made a motion to keep the hall open pending a review of financial statements by the membership, but the motion was overwhelmingly voted down, McCowan said.

About 30 people, including eight board members, attended Thursday’s meeting, which was announced shortly after the club announced it was closing the hall last week.

Fitzgerald said she made the motion to keep the hall open because she thinks it could make the club money if it was managed better.

“The building has never been marketed to its full potential,” Fitzgerald said. “The decision (to close it) has been made based on poor performance and no history of successful rentals.”

Neither has there ever been a full accounting for the income and expenses associated with the Mushers Hall, she said.

“As a board member, I’ve been told numbers but I have not been provided with financial statements saying exactly what the cost-savings would be by closing it,” Fitzgerald said.

Even if it’s closed, the club still has to pay insurance and property taxes, which come to about $14,000 a year, she said.

But McCowan said it costs more to heat the building during the winter than it generates in rental income and that keeping it open would put the club further in debt.

The hall will be closed from Oct. 1 to March 1, which means it should be reopened in time for the Arctic Winter Games, scheduled to be held at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds March 15-22.

“It shouldn’t affect (Arctic Winter Games),” said Fitzgerald, who is the sport chair for the Arctic Winter Games mushing competition. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that all this will be resolved by then.”

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

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