Thursday, December 8, 2011

New skating rink plan bypasses the public

Here's a story from this week's Riverdale Review and Bronx Press.

By Brendan McHugh 

This rink is about 45 percent the size of a regulation hockey rink. The city is hopeful that a long-term, larger rink will be up and running by next winter.
After months of delays and Community Board 8 bending over backwards to accommodate the city, the Department of Parks and Recreation has announced they have scrapped the plan for a full ice-skating rink this year and will attempt to implement a smaller rink that doesn’t require any public input. 

The new rink, at the same site adjacent to the Van Cortlandt Park Stadium, will be about 45 percent the size of a regulation hockey rink. The rink, seating, “minimal” snack bar, Zamboni shed and skate rental will all fit within the fenced in defunct tennis courts near Broadway and W. 242nd Street in the park. Portable restrooms will on the outskirt of the courts. 

This new plan comes after the parks department has struggled to work with a private company to build a seasonal ice rink for a 15-year period. 

Parks representative Davita Mabourakh said, “Negotiations are going on a lot longer than we hoped,” with concessionaire Ice Rink Events, so they decided to work with Ice Rink Events on a temporary project just to give the community an idea of what they’re trying to bring to the community. 

Ice Rink Events, a Houston, Texas based company, was the only company to bid for the project earlier this year. 

Jump below for the full story.
Community board members were irked at the new project though, because the project does not need any sort of approval by the community. Just like a circus or street fair, the parks department can go ahead with this project without much community input because it’s a one-time-only seasonal permitted project. 

However, parks committee chairman Bob Bender promised to have a lengthy discussion about this rink at the community board’s general meeting Dec. 13 and to deliver comments to Mabourakh the following day. 

Bender warned Mabourakh not to make the temporary rink a yearly thing, otherwise “that would clearly constitute an intent to avoid the process.” 

Mabourakh promised that this permitted rink is a one-time only event. “Final answer,” she said. 

The plan for the long-term rink is a 15-year contract that would run every winter and needs approval by the Franchise and Concessions Review Committee, but this plan does not. 

Even before the temporary rink can be installed, Con Edison needs to upgrade the electrical infrastructure of the area. 

“The new skating rink will require significant power, more than a park typically does,” Con Edison spokesperson Allan Drury said in an email. “There will need to be upgrades to Con Edison’s electrical delivery infrastructure and the infrastructure within the park. We are working with the Parks Dept. on their plans for the rink to make sure there is adequate power supply.” 

He did not give a timeline for the work. Mabourakh said Con Edison has told the parks department that they are behind schedule and that it could take some time to get the work done. She conceded that if Con Edison can’t complete the work in time, the temporary rink might not even happen this year. 

Con Edison’s work would meet requirements for increased lighting, power to ice chillers and other necessary items that are necessary for not only the temporary rink, but the long-term rink as well. 

Smaller rink or not, some of the same issues still concerned the community members. 

“It’s no longer a public park,” said board member Robert Press after the meeting. “This is similar to the first presentation by (Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy chairman) Mr. (Anthony Perez) Cassino, where there were no answers. We still don’t have any answers.” 

Questions such as skate rental costs, operating hours and detailed food options were not available at the meeting. A representative for Ice Rink Events did not return requests for comment. 

Board member Steven Balicer warned the parks department about the noise from the neighboring elevated train. 

“The noise from the subway is beyond a healthy range,” he said. 

The temporary rink will not affect the handball courts. The 15-year rink could take up two of the courts during the winter months.

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