Signs of thaw appear in ice rink talks

March 19, 2010
By

David Taber

Real Estate Today

JACKSON SQ.—Advocates for a new ice rink in Jackson Square were hopefully about the future of that plan last week following a meeting with Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) head Rick Sullivan.

Non-profit developer Urban Edge and the local group Friends of Kelly rink have long-standing plans to construct a new home for the Kelly ice rink as part of a major multi-developer redevelopment of Jackson Square.

The groups told the Gazette that the March 8 meeting with DCR officials was the firs time the state indicated it might eventually be able to drum up funding to contribute to the project.

The meeting at DCR’s Boston office included DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan, DCR staffers, a group of city and state elected officials, Urban Edge, members of Jamaica Plain’s Friends of Kelly Rink group, and Rodney Singleton from the city’s Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

“Everyone is taking this very seriously,” Urban Edge president Mossik Hacobian said of the ice rink project.

The meeting was the first formal discussion Urban Edge has had with DCR about a 2008 $5.69 million bond authorization for an ice rink Jamaica Plain. The bond authorization, passed as part of an enormous environmental bond bill passed that year, essentially amounts to encouragement to DCR to, at some point in the near future, include an appropriation for the rink in its capital budget. DCR, like all state agencies, has not been eager to invest in major new projects in recent years.

Hacobian and others, including DCR spokesperson Wendy Fox, said that Sullivan did not commit to funding the project. But, Hacobian said, Sullivan is exploring the possibility, potentially in 2012 or 2013.

Steve Glickel of Friends of Kelly, who attended the meeting, said his impression was that DCR “thought it was a good project and worthy. DCR is committed to looking for funds and to making it a reality.”

Fox was slightly more circumspect. “It was just a conversational meeting. Nothing was decided,” she told the Gazette. “I think [DCR and the Urban Edge] are keeping themselves open to future partnerships.”

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who attended the meeting, also counseled caution about reading too much into it “I think we should not over-characterize what [Sullivan] has committed to doing. He said he would look” for funding, she said. “But certainly the dial has been moved.”

That movement came in the wake of a surprise announcement by Gov. Deval Patrick last month that the nearby Melnea Cass Rink on Washington Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Roxbury—a rink with an open shed roof in Roxbury that used to have ice, but was later used as a roller-rink— would receive $1.45 million for conversion into an enclosed, year-round “dry” recreation facility.

The Cass has mostly been closed for the past two decades. The neglect shown the rink has been a major point of controversy for Roxbury residents in community conversations about building a new rink in Jackson.

The new rink is proposed as a permanent replacement for the Kelly Rink, which had a full-scale home on the Jamaicaway until it was torn down in the 1980s at around the same time ice was discontinued at the Cass. The Kelly has been operating at a “temporary” open-air site near the Stony Brook T Station since the 1990s. Last year it received close to $1 million in improvements intended to keep it open for another decade.

“The fact that the Cass is going forward first is very important. It is crucial,” said Glickel.

Hacobian and others, including City Councilor Chuck Turner—who also attended the meeting—have expressed hopes that the Cass, the Kelly and a proposed Youth and Family Center will eventually form what Hacobian has described as a “campus” of youth-oriented services and activities in the area.

Singleton told the Gazette that a number of design alternatives for the new Cass space were presented at the March 8 meeting. They will be “whittled down” to two or three that will be presented at a community meeting, he said. Fox said that meeting would happen by the end of the month.

Singleton said another suggestion that came out of the meeting was that the CAC think about what levels of community accessibility and affordability it would like to see for the proposed rink ahead of a feasibility study Urban Edge and Friends of Kelly hope to present in June.

The goal is for the rink to be able to support its own operating costs, and to offer affordable access for community residents by renting out space during off-peak hours. Singleton told the Gazette he asked DCR for information about other similar rinks in the state to inform the CAC’s thinking on that topic.

State Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez and City Councilor John Tobin also attended the meeting. Hacobian said state Rep. Gloria Fox had also hoped to attend but had another commitment.

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