WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Ice Rink & Recreational Facility Committee recently met for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chair Mark DiGiovanni began the virtual meeting by welcoming two of the Committee’s newest members — Wilmington Athletic Director Mia Muzio (replacing Interim AD Ed Harrison) and new Wilmington Youth Hockey Association President Steve Doherty.
DiGiovanni then provided a brief recap of the committee’s accomplishments to date.
“We have reviewed what town-owned land might be available and suitable to build a rink/recreational facility,” explained DiGiovanni.
The Committee’s top four choices include:
- Whitefield School site (342 Middlesex)
- Town Recycling Center (955 Main Street)
- Grove Ave. parcel (vacant lot across street from Silver Lake)
- Town Park (823 Main Street).
The Committee made those selections after thorough review, lots of discussion, and several presentations from Town Engineer Paul Alunni analyzing over a dozen sites.
The Committee then spent the bulk of their meeting speaking with Brian DeVellis (President) and Chris Collins (Director of Business Development) of the Edge Sports Group Associates. Committee members were interested in learning about how a potential public-private partnership to build an ice rink and recreational facility in Wilmington might work.
“There is a strong inclination on this committee to have a public-private partnership to get this endeavor off the group and make it a reality, especially considering all the other needs we have in town, including a new Senior Center, new Town Hall, and a new school,” said DiGiovanni.
DeVellis explained that Edge Sports Group Associates develops sports centers in partnership with public entities, like towns. His company, which started 12 years ago, has built and manages the Essex Sports Center in Middleton, the Worcester Ice Center, the Boston Sports Institute in Wellesley, the Thayer Sports Center in Braintree, and the Game on Sports Center in Fitchburg, to name a few locally.
“The town would receive a state-of-the-art sports complex in town at no cost to taxpayer,” says DeVeillis. “Most people are doing private-public partnerships now. Most towns need to build a new high school, or police station, or library, and they don’t need to build a sports center, but they want a sports center. We bring in private equity. We work with the town’s backing. And we develop what’s essentially a private enterprise providing the town the benefits they want and need.”
DeVellis touted several benefits that new recreational facilities have on our communities, including:
- Preferred surface time & rates for town programming.
- Community, Rec. Department & School Dept. input on surfaces, combined with industry leading knowledge and design diversity, leads to a long-lasting, high-usage facility
- Long Term Property Tax and Ground Lease Revenue
- Sports Centers bolster local economy and small businesses, local restaurants, hotels, shops and tourist destinations.
- Job creation within the sports center, along with ancillary job and new business creation
- True home for community athletics; serves entire community from youth & HS athletics to toddler to senior recreation
“Our goal is to serve local communities through the development of recreational programming and facilities designed to benefit users of all ages and abilities,” stressed DeVellis.
After the presentation, DeVellis and Collins took approximately 30 minutes of questions from committee members.
DeVellis made it clear that Wilmington will very likely need more than one single sheet of ice to make the venture enticing to an investment group. 2 sheets, or at least 1.5 sheets, should be the goal.
“The ideal plan is 2 sheets of ice and 30,000 square foot mixed use space,” said DeVellis.
DeVellis, who lives in Billerica, is well aware of Wilmington’s current ice time issues.
“You don’t want another Ristuccia,” he said. “You don’t want to be locked out of a facility in your own town.”
Wilmington AD Mia Muzio reported that Wilmington High School’s 3 hockey teams — Varsity Boys, Varsity Girls, and JV Boys — received a total of 10 hours of ice per week at Ristuccia this year.
“And that amount will likely be significantly diminished next winter,” added Mia Muzio. “We’re hoping toneham will fit us in for next year…. It’s hard to have a successful hockey program when there’s only 5 hours of ice for practice among 3 teams. Our JV team probably got 1 practice a week this year.”
Things are even worse for Wilmington Youth Hockey.
“Our ice time has been cut for a third year in a row,” said WYHA President Steve Doherty. “We’re looking at all rinks around us. The majority of ice time will come outside of Ristuccia. We receive 4 sheets of ice on Sunday and that’s it. All our weekdays are gone. We’re almost completely forced out of Ristuccia. Bob [Rotondo] is being pushed out as well.”
“Whoever wins the Request For Proposal for a public-private partnership would sit down with Wilmington Youth Sports and the Wilmington Athletic Director,” explained DeVellis. “Wilmington Youth Hockey and Wilmington High School would plan out their ice needs for the next 10 years, and it would be up to the private partner to backfill the rest of the ice time to [club programs and other outside user groups.]”
The private partner would be in charge of upkeep and expenses throughout the entire 50 years of the agreement. The building would turn over to the town after 50 years. The private entity essentially takes on all the obligation and risk.
DeVellis told the Committee that the town should develop a Recreations Need Study, and reach out to the residents with a survey to get a firmer understanding of what the town wants and needs for additional recreational uses.
Selectman Kevin Caira suggested the Committee follow the Yentile Farm Recreational Facility Committee’s model of soliciting a lot of input from the public throughout the process.
Town Manager Jeff Hull noted that the town needs to access what it wants out of a new recreational facility. His other takeaway from DeVellis’s presentation is that for the project to be economically viable — the facility needs more than a single sheet of ice.
“Bigger is better,” responded DeVellis. “If an investor is going to put money in, they want a more diverse footprint so they get paid back.”
The Committee feels it’ll now likely need to find a town-owned property that is 7-8 acres in size, which may prove problematic.
The town has its eyes on a 9-acre portion of the Textron property, which currently houses tennis courts and ballfields, but some of that property is wet with the Lubbers Brook. There is also a high pressure gas line that runs through the parcel.
Wilmington Recreation Director Karen Campbell asked Town Manager Jeff Hull who the proponent of Article 60 at Town Meeting could consider that land off of Route 125 for an ice rink/recreational facility. Hull said the idea has been broached, but a rink is not the focus of the current plans, which calls for a hotel, restaurants, retail, and/or a medical office building.
The Committee agreed to meet again on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 7pm via Zoom to further discuss DeVellis’s presentation and begin brainstorming questions it may want to ask about the town’s recreational needs in a community survey.
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