Urban Edge is holding off on rink

December 18, 2009
By

David Taber

Turner calls for new dialogue

JACKSON SQ.—Amid concerns about funding and community needs, Urban Edge staffers last month said the non-profit developer will hold off on seeking city approval for plans to build an ice-skating rink on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street.

City Councilor Chuck Turner called for a new round of community-wide dialogue about needs in the area at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

He said that dialogue should include a discussion of what to do with the Melnea Cass Rink, a nearby rink in Roxbury that has fallen into disuse after years on neglect.

This week—following a meeting with state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz—state officials told the Gazette a rehab of the Roxbury rink could happen in the near future. The rehab plan will not include a new ice facility for the Cass rink, but may include roller-skating and other recreational facilities. [See related article.]

Chang-Díaz’s senatorial district encompasses JP and much of Roxbury, including the Cass Rink site on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Urban Edge still plans to file revised plans for proposed four-story affordable housing and office/community space at its Jackson Square site early next year, Noah Maslan of Urban Edge told the Gazette following the Dec. 1 meeting.

The non-profit developer had previously proposed to seek Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approval for the new rink and the 35- to 40-unit affordable rental housing development at the same time. But CAC members at the group’s November meeting asked the developers and the group Friends of Kelly Rink, partners with Urban Edge on the project, to provide more specifics about how the proposed rink would be run.

Urban Edge has hired a consultant to help develop a business plan that it hopes will show a new rink will be able to sustain itself financially and remain affordable to the Jackson Square community, Maslan said at the December meeting.

Chang-Diaz, who attended the meeting, gave some clarification about a $5.69 million authorization in a 2008 state environmental bond bill the developer hopes to use toward the estimated over-$10 million cost of building the rink.

As the Gazette has previously reported, the legislative authorization does not mean the money is there. “It is a permission slip” for Gov. Deval Patrick, who has ultimate say over which of the bonds authorized in the 2008 bill move forward, Chang-Díaz said. Only about 5 percent of the items that were authorized have seen executive appropriations so far, she said.

The senator said “advocacy machinery” would be key in moving the bond appropriation forward.

Turner, meanwhile, advocated for a renewed broad community dialogue about needs that could be addressed by the Jackson Square development. The councilor said he attended a Nov. 12 Urban Edge-hosted community meeting about the site and “realized…a number of steps have to take place for them to move forward” with the rink.

At the meeting, residents raised number of questions about whether a dedicated ice rink is the best use for the space on the corner of Ritchie and Columbus. A list of questions raised at the meeting, later compiled and distributed by Urban Edge, included requests for space for a host of different services and programs: an adult technology center; after-school programs; karate classes; art and theater classes; and a basketball court, among others.

Urban Edge’s proposal is part of a multi-developer redevelopment of about 11 acres of land in Jackson Square. While public infrastructure work and a mixed-use rental housing and retail project being undertaken by for-profit developer Mitchell Properties are scheduled to begin this spring, Urban Edge’s efforts are not the only “community space” projects that have hit roadblocks.

A 30,000-square-foot youth and family center was proposed for the Jamaica Plain side of Columbus Avenue between Heath and Centre streets. Developers the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) announced this fall that they are holding off on the project because of concerns about financing.

At the time, the group of developers, Jackson Square Partners, said they would work to make up for the delay in building the community center by increasing capacity at other spaces, including space on the Urban Edge site and Hyde Square Task Force-run space in that nearby neighborhood.

That plan involves delaying a $13 million capital campaign for the Youth and Family Center and instead moving forward with a more modest $5 million fundraising effort for a rehabilitation of HSTF’s Cheverus building in Hyde Square, a move that some CAC members said was disappointing.

HSTF director Claudio Martinez did not return Gazette phone calls for this article.

Turner repeatedly said at the meeting that he hopes renewed community conversation about Jackson Square plans will encompass more than the rink. It should ask the question, “What do we need in the Jackson [Square] area to serve the needs of the younger population?” he said.

“I don’t know how many people from across my district would like to skate in Jackson Square…It could work to the advantage [or the disadvantage] of Kelly Rink supporters,” said Turner, who represents the Roxbury neighborhoods adjacent to the Square, as well as Egleston Square in JP.

The councilor said that with the rink project moving forward slowly, he sees an opportunity to “reflect and re-evaluate” and, specifically, to restart a dialogue with area youth about community needs.

He said he plans to set up meetings with elected officials and developers to come up with strategies to reach out to the community—particularly people between the ages of 8 and 25, he said—and collect data about community needs.

Many CAC members responded positively to Turner’s proposal. Edward Bernard of Highland Park said an effort to “engage, foster buy-in, and provide something to give [youth] incentive” to participate in shaping the future of the area is “really encouraging.”

Having more information could help move the conversation forward, said CAC member Red Burrows of JP. “A lot of this has been taking a shot in the dark,” he said.

While she expressed support for continued community dialogue about the future of Jackson Square, Chang-Díaz said she has little doubt the Kelly Rink would be a success. “Judging from the popularity of the “temporary” Kelly Rink—an open air ice rink on the Southwest Corridor near the Stony Brook T Station—“maybe…we know the answer” to the question of whether the rink would be successful, she said.

Friends of Kelly “did a tremendous job forging a community asset with their bare hands,” she later told the Gazette.

CAC member Celia Grant from Highland Park encouraged Urban Edge to be thinking about other options for the corner of Centre and Ritchie, “I…do not want to get in a situation where the rink does not move forward” and the corner remains empty, she said.

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