JACKSON SQ.—It was part informational meeting and part pep rally when about 80 community members gathered Sept. 11 at the Boylston Congregational Church to hear an update from state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on plans to build an ice rink in Jackson Square.
“I did my job. I went out and got the money,” Wilkerson said.
A 15-year incumbent, the state senator was defeated in the Democratic primary by challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz. She is now running as a write-in candidate. [See related article.] One of the arguments Wilkerson put forward during the campaign was that she is an experienced politician with a proven track record of delivering for her district.
In August, Wilkerson secured authorization for $5.69 million for the new Kelly Rink and $4.4 million for the Melnea Cass Rink on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Roxbury in an environmental bond bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick. The Kelly Rink is slated to be an ice-skating rink, and the nearby Cass will be an indoor recreational facility including a roller skating rink.
While Patrick still has discretion over what items in the bond bill are funded, Wilkerson said Patrick is “committed to prioritizing the rink…He is committed to including it in the capital plan.”
“The governor is interested in the project,” Becky Deusser, a spokesperson from the Governor’s Office, told the Gazette the week after the Sept. 16 election. Since then there has been a major meltdown of the credit market. According to Bloomberg News, the state on Oct. 7 held off on plans to issue $750 million in short-term notes because of fears that demand would be low. It is unclear how the state’s long-term capital budget will be affected.
The rink is part of the community development corporation Urban Edge’s portion of an ambitious, multi-developer redevelopment plan for the Jackson Square area. If state funding comes through, it will cover about 30 to 40 percent of the cost of building the rink, Urban Edge president Mossik Hacobian told the Gazette.
Patrick has shown interest in the redevelopment of Jackson Square as a whole—visiting the area in June to announce the awarding of a $3.1 million grant for infrastructure improvements to the development team.
The new rink would replace the “temporary” Kelly Rink—an outdoor rink on Amory Street near the Stony Brook T Station that has been operated by the Friends of Kelly Rink and maintained by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for over a decade.
The temporary rink was installed by DCR in response to community protest over the closing and demolition of the original Kelly Rink on the Jamaicaway, Steve Glickel, president of Friends of Kelly Rink said at the meeting.
“It was meant to last five years. It was built 11 years ago,” Glickel said.
Speaking to the Gazette, Hacobian described the funding authorization as “an important first step,” in securing state funding for the rink.
State funding would come via the DCR capital budget, Hacobian said. Based on meetings between Urban Edge and the DCR, he said, his understanding is it would be at least two years before that funding becomes available.
Cyndi Roy, spokesperson for the state Executive Office of Administration and Finance, said the state annually develops a five-year umbrella capital plan. Those plans include both projects “the governor wants to see funded” and items, like funding for grants, that are left to the discretion of state agencies.
The plans are also informed by an annual debt affordability analysis. Bonds are essentially loans sold to investors, and how many bonds the state issues is based on how much it can afford to finance, she said.
In the meantime, Urban Edge is working to raise the rest of the capital that will be needed to build the rink, Hacobian said. The rink—part of the second phase of the mixed-use redevelopment plan—will likely cost between $12 million and $15 million, he said.
Overall, the four-phase redevelopment of Jackson Square is projected to cost $250 million. Phase one, scheduled to start this year, will include the construction of 140 residential units, office space, a youth and families center; and a new Department of Youth Services facility. Different aspects of the project will be developed by different developers including the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Hyde Square Task Force and JP-based for profit developer Mitchell Properties. Collectively those groups are known as Jackson Square Partners.
Hacobian and Glickel both told the Gazette they are beginning the process of negotiating with DCR to determine who will officially own the rink and how it will be managed and maintained.
“When we get the rink built, it will not be like the Reggie Lewis Center [a nearby sports facility in Roxbury] where the whole world comes and uses it and our kids don’t.”
“Our vision is the rink being run by a community board and with community people on staff,” Glickel told the Gazette.
As far as ownership is concerned, Hacobian outlined two possibilities. One would be for DCR to own the rink and lease it to a local group, he said.
Another would be to set up a separate private enterprise to build and hold title to the rink. Hacobian said a similar was used to redevelop the formerly MBTA-owned power station in Egleston Square. Urban Edge, in partnership with the Boston Neighborhood Network cable access TV station, converted it into a new headquarters for the station.
An advantage of that would be that the private entity would be able to raise money to run and maintain the rink, Hacobian said.
“We are open to whichever way,” he said.
DCR funds have been committed for repair and upkeep of the temporary Kelly Rink and facilities, including a swimming pool, at the Cass. Maintenance work on the Cass will begin in October and work on the Kelly will begin in the spring, Wilkerson said at the meeting.
“The state has committed to maintaining the temporary rink for at least five more years,” she said. “We won’t have a down season.”
The spring repairs are expected to cost around $1 million for both the Cass and Kelly, including the installation of new piping at the Kelly. “Most of the equipment and piping they use to repair the [current rink] will be movable” and usable in the new rink, Wilkerson said at the meeting.
Virtually all of the comments at the meeting were positive and supportive of the senator’s efforts.
“I am very pleased to have a big chunk of money to help solve what it takes to make Jackson Square real,” said Lamartine Street resident Jeff Goodman.
Another JP resident expressed sorrow that the temporary rink would be closing down. She said she likes the current location because it “draws diverse groups. It’s not residential. Nobody claims it as their turf. I hope [the Jackson Square rink] will have a similar feel,” she said.
Maxwell Lee, who has been running the skate shop at the rink for eight years, told the Gazette he is looking forward to the new rink. “it will run better. It won’t be subject to the elements. Last year it was too warm [for skating] most days.”
Lee is employed by Jeffrey Ferris, who owns the local Ferris Wheels Bike Shop and operates the skate shop under contract with Friends of Kelly.
While it is unclear who will win the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat, Glickel and Michael Frank from Friends of Kelly said in an e-mail that they look forward to working with Chang-Díaz if she wins in November.
Chang-Díaz did not return Gazette calls for this article.