Town Council: Hockey rink 'off the table,' fate of rec. center uncertain
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jan. 10, 2013
The South Windsor Town Council allocated time during its Jan. 7 work session and regular meeting to discuss a proposal for putting a recreation center and hockey rink at Evergreen Walk – a discussion which saw councilors as heatedly divided as members of the public on the issue. While previously framed as a package deal, the recreation center and hockey rink were treated as separate items at the meeting.
In the work session, Town Manager Matthew Galligan told the council that he met with a private developer who has expressed interest in building a hockey center at Evergreen Walk without town support. “They look like they want to move forward with it, they know all the players, and they're in the business,” said Galligan. He advised the town to take no action until they saw how this potential deal panned out.
At the beginning of the regular meeting, members of the public had a chance to speak. Bob Feher, president of the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association and a proponent of the project being handled by the town, said there was a need for both the recreation center and hockey rink at Evergreen Walk. He challenged the council to find a solution, saying that the hockey rink was proposed as a revenue-generator that would offset the cost of an accompanying recreation center.
“If we constantly send things to referendum – schools, roofs, additions – and you can't get it done over years and years... there has to be different, innovative ideas that you have to look at seriously,” he said, referencing past discussion of financing the project with a 63-20 corporation, which would bypass the requirement to have the project approved at referendum.
“I was very encouraged to hear of the private enterprise looking at the hockey rink here in town,” said John Bassilakis. “What we're hearing from Governor Malloy is things are going to be pretty tough... I'm not sure it's the best time for us to talk about... any type of expenditure. The time is not right.”
Kent Mawhinney, who first presented the proposal to the council in October, disagreed. “You guys are our leaders: you need to lead. We are in a terrible time. If you think our aid is going to stay the same, you're out of your mind,” he told the council. “The reason our state is a mess is we've done nothing to improve and attract.” He did not see the interest of the private sector to carry the hockey rink project forward as to the town's credit. “Private people are stepping up, and saying they want to do it. That to me says, 'missed opportunity,'” said Mawhinney.
Len Grigorian voiced his suspicion of a project that some residents wanted to push through without a referendum. “When I hear that a referendum is retarding what we do here in town, as far as I remember, a referendum is the taxpayer base, the voter base of this town, deciding what they want to happen,” he said. “Not a select group of individuals or a committee.”
Richard Grigorian, owner of South Windsor Arena and an outspoken opponent to the proposal, said it was “obvious and transparent” that the 63-20 was proposed to avoid a referendum.
Having exceeded the 30 minutes allocated for public comments, councilors had their say.
“I've never been in favor of the town competing with private businesses. That's not something we should do,” said Councilor Keith Yagaloff.
Councilor Saud Anwar cited an example of the town-owned hockey rink in West Hartford, which is not making revenue. “So clearly, it's not going to be budget neutral, as we were made to believe initially,” he said.
“At this point, it's just not the right plan and right place at the right time for the town,” said Mayor Thomas Delnicki.
On the issue of the recreation center, Councilor Gary Bazzano said that in the past there was a referendum for a sewer plan and a pumping station. The sewer plan passed, and the pumping station did not. “To tell me that the vote reflects what we really need, I ask you, how do we get the sewage from your homes and businesses to the facility without the pumping station?” he said. While Delnicki and Galligan said the pumping station in question passed at referendum the next year, Bazzano's point remained. He advocated for a recreation center, though not necessarily at Evergreen Walk. He asked Galligan to provide councilors with a past plan for a recreation center, to review at a later date.
Bazzano also said that while the council needs to focus on difficult budget concerns, they also need to move South Windsor forward. “We're being passed left and right. Ellington, Tolland, Somers. They're getting more attractive,” he said.
While Cindy Beaulieu observed that a recreation center would solve many of the town's problems, including a community center that's too small and the absence of an indoor pool, Councilor Edward Havens told the mayor the council had wasted enough time on the issue.
In the face of a difficult budget year, most councilors were resistant to the proposals. Ultimately, they agreed to take the hockey rink “off the table,” and to return to the issue of a recreation center at a later meeting.
A clearly disappointed Bazzano said that every year is a tough budget year. “But you have to do what's right for this town,” he said.