WILMINGTON, MA — After hearing the news broke that Ristuccia Arena was sold to entrepeneur and hockey club owner Richard Gallant, town officials were not happy.
At Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s Meeting, current and former Selectmen expressed their disappointment with the transaction.
The Town Sets The Record Straight
Town Manager Jeff Hull began the conversation with an overview of the situation.
“The initial discussion about the rink took place in the early part of 2014 between Mr. Ristuccia, myself and then Selectman Mike Newhouse. There seemed to be an indication by Mr. Ristuccia that he would be interested in selling the property to the town. There was no formal negotiation, but there was an expression of interest and the potential amount talked about was $2.25 million. We went to Town Meeting in December 2014 to seek authorization to raise and appropriate, or borrow, that amount of money,” recalled Hull.
“In the meantime, the lease that Mr. Ristuccia had with Robert Rotondo was due to expire in the summer of 2015. During the course of 2015, Mr. Ristuccia ultimately decided to extend the lease from 2015 to 2018,” continued Hull. “Then, Mr. Rotondo filed suit against Mr. Ristuccia alleging that the Town and Mr. Ristuccia had engaged in formal negotiations about the purchase of the rink, and he claimed he had a right of first refusal in his lease, so he wound up taking Mr. Ristuccia to court. As a consequence, the town was locked out — the expectation was to wait until the lease expired in June 2015 and then engage in formal discussions with Mr. Ristuccia. When the extension was signed off on, that created an issue. When the suit was filed, that further prohibited the town from engaging in formal conversations with Mr. Ristuccia to discuss purchasing the rink.”
“As I understand it, there wasn’t much discussion between Ristuccia and Rotondo between 2015 and 2018. In 2018, when the suit was due to be heard in court, there apparently was some discussions between Mr. Ristuccia and Mr. Rotondo to resolve the issue,” explained Hull. “We were monitoring the situation. Former Counsel had discussions with representatives from Ristuccia and Rotondo looking to try to address ice time and the price of ice time, but because we weren’t a party to the contract or lease, we really didn’t have any leverage to make any demands. Ultimately, the two parties reached a settlement, which – as I understand it, but have not seen the lease – was for an extension of 5 years on the lease. That took place in May or June of 2018.”
“There hasn’t been any discussions between the Town and Mr. Ristuccia since [May or June 2018],” concluded Hull. “It was just this past week that I became aware of the sale of the rink. Selectman Bendel contacted me after it had been posted on social media. We confirmed that it was sold. That’s the extent of it. Ultimate, you have two parties here that decided to pursue a transaction and the Town had no ability, legally, to intervene in that process. We did not have any right of first refusal because we didn’t have any legal document with Mr. Ristuccia. He’s a private property owner, just like anyone who owns a home. He opted to sell to someone, a gentleman from Concord. That’s where we are today.”
Current & Former Selectmen React To The News
“All along the way, from the very infancy of conversations, we were never in agreement with the owner of the rink. There was a verbal discussion of the potential for us to, someday, buy the rink at a certain price. Then that owner decided to go do something else. Not due to lack of effort from this board or the town,” said former Selectman Mike Champoux, who was in the audience. “There were exhaustive efforts to keep that dialogue open. Irrespective of all those efforts, the conversations died and the owner decided to go on his path. That’s not a failure of negotiation by the town. The only person who failed here was the owner of that rink.”
“It’s not our fault,” echoed Selectman Mike McCoy. “Unfortunately, it seemed like he was just a used car salesman. Using us to probably get a better deal elsewhere. It’s really sad.”
“Because there was no [recent] communication, it was a situation that lends itself to us guessing what happened, but it does have a feel that the interest our community expressed in purchasing that rink was used as leverage to drive up the price,” agreed Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “It’s really frustrating. I know a lot of work went into trying to make that happen… There’s certainly a community need for this rink. To have this happen is really frustrating,”
“It’s awfully disappointing. It seems like from 2014 on, there was really a conscious effort by the entire community to pursue [the purchase of the rink], and it was really disappointing to find out last week that we no longer have that opportunity,” Selectman Greg Bendel concurred.
“It’s a shame that Mr. Ristuccia did what he did to the youth of Wilmington,” added Selectman Chair Kevin Caira.
Former Selectwoman Judy O’Connell also let her thoughts be known on the matter.
“I think a better headline would be that ‘Ristuccia Fails to Sell the Rink to the Town of Wilmington!,” wrote O’Connell in response to Wilmington Apple‘s initial story on the sale. “If residents are upset they should be placing blame where it belongs. The Board of Selectmen at the time this opportunity was presented was united unanimously in putting forth a special town meeting and warrant article to seek an appropriation to purchase the rink if given the opportunity. Town residents came out in force to approve the warrant article for the appropriation for the purchase at town meeting and negotiations began with much taking place in executive session with the [Board of Selectmen] as to not tip the town’s hand to other potential buyers, etc.”
“The owner of the arena in my opinion didn’t negotiate with the Town of Wilmington in good faith and many of his actions didn’t match his words,” continued O’Connell. “If Ristuccia wanted Wilmington to be the rink owner he could have done his part to see that happened and he didn’t. This is very disappointing news for all involved. I don’t see this as the Board of Selectmen not getting the job done or the town. The owner sold to who he wanted to for a higher price and didn’t give Wilmington the opportunity to meet or exceed the terms he got. It may be his right to do so, but based on how he has treated the Town of Wilmington I am not sad to see him go.”
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