New rinks give council members the chills
BRIDGEPORT — It has been over four months since Mayor Joe Ganim announced a proposal to build a state-of-the-art ice skating facility, and a deal has yet to be forwarded to the City Council.
In the meantime, skepticism about the project among members of that legislative body has grown.
“I would encourage the office of economic development to have a Plan B,” said Council President Aidee Nieves. “A lot of council members (are) seeking to understand the necessity, economically, of that type of development.”
The downtown rinks were proposed by Park City Ice Palace. That new limited liability corporation was founded in response to a request for development proposals the city issued in August for public land at 1269 Main St.
When Ganim announced Park City Ice’s $12 million vision for two rinks, a fitness center, juice bar, coffee and sandwich shops, in September, the council had only weeks earlier extended Wonderland of Ice’s lease on the municipal rinks at 123 Glenwood Ave.
So council members from the start questioned the need to build more ice rinks and if Wonderland’s business would suffer as a result.
The Ganim administration has maintained there is room for Wonderland and Park City Ice Palace.
“Wonderland of Ice ... serves a great purpose, but there is a tremendous demand in Fairfield County, where high school (hockey) teams are practicing at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. just to get ice time,” Economic Development Director Tom Gill said in September.
In an interview in late December, Gill said he hoped to have a draft development agreement for the new rinks to the council sometime in January. Ganim’s office this week said that the city and Park City Ice are “still in negotiations.”
Nieves said she and some of her council colleagues continue to harbor doubts about approving another skating attraction.
“I’m opposed to developing a project hat isn’t going to be economically prosperous for our city,’ Nieves said. “We have a more than capable facility. We just signed an operator’s lease with them. ... A big ice skating rink, smack in the middle of downtown. For what purpose?”
Councilman Ernie Newton is a co-chairman of the contracts committee. Newton is open to hearing the Ganim administration’s and Park City Ice’s pitch, but added, “They’re gonna have to sell it to us.”
“We need to put something in the city that’s not only going to generate income, but things we don’t have,” Newton said. “And there is a lot of talk amongst council members about why do we need two ice skating rinks?”
Ganim is under pressure in an election year to show progress on the economic development front. A concert amphitheater is moving forward, though delayed. And the mayor’s much-touted renovation of two shuttered downtown theaters — the Majestic and Poli Palace — has stalled because the developer missed a December deadline to obtain financing.
That developer, Exact Capital of New York, has been renovating a theater in Harlem. Council members were tentatively planning a visit this month to that site, but Nieves said that was canceled. The council president instead wants Exact executives to return to Bridgeport and explain their financing situation to the council.
“They should be coming to us,” Nieves said.