Friends of Kelly Rink makes pitch to CAC

November 20, 2009
By

David Taber

JACKSON SQ.—If a new ice rink cannot be demonstrated to be a community benefit, key rink-backers Friends of Kelly Rink is not interested in seeing the rink built, group members said at the Nov. 5 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee.

“None of us have any interest in building a rental palace that the community can’t use,” Friends of Kelly member Steve Glickel said at the meeting.

The ice rink is a key part of non-profit developer Urban Edge’s portion of a multi-developer revitalization plan for the neighborhood. Friends of Kelly—which currently helps run a now decade-old “temporary” open-air rink in the Southwest Corridor Park near the Stony Brook T Station—is partnering with Urban Edge on the Jackson Square rink project.

Urban Edge is currently vetting the fourth version of its plans for land it owns on the corner of Ritchie Street and Columbus Avenue. The plans include putting the rink on the Columbus/Ritchie corner and constructing a new four-story extension onto the Webb building on the site. That extension is proposed to house around 35-40 mixed income-residential and office/community space.

Friends of Kelly members Glickel, Bill Allan and Maxwell Lee enthusiastically aired some details about their vision for the rink to five CAC members at the lightly attended meeting. “In ten years or more of going to meetings, this is the first open conversation we have had,” about the rink, Allan said.

The concept for the rink—officially termed an “indoor recreation facility” in Urban Edge’s planning documents—was developed in the 1990s in a community visioning process for the redevelopment of Jackson Square. But it has long been controversial.

There is another rink, the Melnea Cass Rink in Roxbury, sitting less than half a mile from the proposed Kelly site. The Cass Rink is in disrepair and has been shut down for years. In the past, Cass Rink advocates have expressed frustration that plans for a new rink seemed to be moving forward while an existing community resource was being ignored.

More recently, CAC members expressed concerns about Urban Edge’s plans to put the rink on the front of the lot instead of the rear. While the developer had no new designs to present at the meeting, Urban Edge CEO Chrystal Kornegay said at the meeting that the design team is “looking around the state at some state-of-the-art [rinks],” and is focusing on making sure the building is open and inviting.

But rather than focusing on those issues, CAC member Jen Spencer opened a new line of questioning, directed mostly at Friends of Kelly: How would the rink be managed and how would it sustain itself financially?

The short answer, Allan said, is “It would be a privately run professional rink.”

In the time since the Cass was closed and the Kelly’s former permanent home on the Jamaicaway was torn down, the ice-rink management landscape has change considerably, Allan said.

These days, even for rinks it owns, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)—formerly the Metropolitan District Commission—“contracts out most of them to private vendors,” Allan said.

“You need to have money in the bank, but the key here is that it is profitably run. It is a marketing issue—getting the community used to having year-round ice,” he said.

Glickel said he is confident that, as long as the project does not take on an “overwhelming” amount of debt, “the operating costs and the income on the rink will balance,” even with subsidies to make that facilities affordable to neighborhood residents.

That would be possible, he said, because the rink would attract users from a much broader pool than just the immediate neighborhood. “There is not enough ice-time in a 30- to 40-mile radius,” he said.

Broader regional use will mostly be during off-peak hours, he said. The current temporary Kelly Rink gets most of its use in the early mornings and evenings and on the weekends. The new rink could be available for programmed activities for youths, hockey practices, learn-to-skate classes during normal work hours and offered for hockey games later in the evenings, he said.

Charitable donations will also play a role in keeping the rink afloat, he said, adding that Friends of Kelly already has a strong relationship with the Boston Bruins.

Lee, who manages the Friends of Kelly-operated skate rental shop at the current rink, said 10 p.m. drop-in hockey games at an ice rink in West Roxbury, which participants pay extra for, regularly draw around 40 people to that rink.

Generally, CAC members appeared receptive to Friends of Kelly’s pitch, but wanted more details.

“This conversation is moving…but we need more information,” CAC member Dan Cruz said at the meeting. “You have to give us some tangible numbers and say, ‘This is why this makes sense.’”

“It sounds to me like what you are asking for is due diligence,” said BRA deputy director David Whiteside, who attended the meeting.

In an e-mail to the Gazette, Kornegay said Urban Edge is undertaking that due diligence work, but it will likely not be completed before the developer submits its notification of project change with the BRA early next year.

CAC member Celia Grant, who did not attend the Nov. 5 meeting, brought up another rink-related request at a Nov. 12 Urban Edge-hosted community meeting about the new site plans.

That question—one of many that Urban Edge staffers attempted to record and promised to answer as the process moves forward—had to do with a state bond authorizations that allow for bonds to be issued to fund both the construction of the new Kelly Rink and rehabilitation of the Cass Rink.

The two 2008 environmental bond bill appropriations, one for $5.69 million for the construction of the new Kelly Rink and one for $4.4 million to reconfigure the Cass into a multi-purpose recreation center, were proposed by then-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. She characterized them at the time as an attempt to defuse a long standing feud between supporters of the Cass and supporters of the Kelly.

The notion was that the Cass would be converted into a multi-purpose recreation center, possibly including a roller-skating rink.

At the Nov. 12 meeting, Grant wondered aloud where the proposed Cass improvements stand.

“Do we ever get to clarify what the Cass people are actually doing?” she said, adding that she has not heard if that project is even moving forward.

“We don’t even know if we are on target with questions about overlap” between the two projects, she said.

Attempts by the Gazette to contact Friends of Cass were unsuccessful.

Webb addition

Urban Edge clarified the affordability breakdown for its proposed four-story Webb addition at the Nov. 5 meeting.

The current proposal is for 35-40 units of housing—10-12 one-bedroom; 20-24 two-bedroom; and 3-4 three-bedroom units.

All of the units will have some amount of affordable housing subsidy. About eight will be affordable to people earning 60-110 percent of the area median income. The AMI for families in the Greater Boston Area is $90,200, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. AMI’s are broken down by household size. So, for example 80 percent AMI for a family of three is $59,550. For a family of four, it is $66,150.

Between 20 and 24 will be available to families earning up to 60 percent AMI—$48,720 for a family of three.

The remaining seven or eight units will be offered to extremely low income residents—earning less than 30 percent AMI.

At the CAC meeting, Cruz said he would like to see more information to back up Urban Edge’s decision to not include more three to four bedroom units.

“If you talk to HUD…they will tell you three- to four-[bedroom units] have the longest wait-list,” he said.

Kornegay said the numbers were based in part on demands identified in Urban Edge’s existing housing stock. One need is smaller apartments for empty-nesters, she said.

Urban Edge staffer Noah Maslan said another concern is that larger units take up more space, and Urban Edge wants to make sure site plans include enough outdoor open-space for families with children.

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