The $10.5 million recreation/ice rinks project to be located at The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk brought before the Town Council is a rare proposal that will benefit virtually every demographic in South Windsor - at least that's the delivery council members received on Monday.
Kent Mawhinney, a Bloomfield attorney who has lived in South Windsor his entire life, said stood before the council and said that the project would benefit seniors, youths, businesses and the community as a whole.
The project includes the following:
- A 35,000 square-foot community center for youths that will have classrooms and an aquatic center comprising an eight-lane pool, therapy pool and diving pools.
- Two ice skating rinks, one indoor and one outdoor; the indoor rink alone will be 38,000 square feet and will be under the same roof as the Community Center, while the outdoor rink would be about 22,000 square feet.
- An extensive multi-use trail and bike path system that would connect the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk with the Town Center. The new paths would provide safe connections for pedestrians and cyclists.
Given that the town is competing with towns like Avon, Simsbury, Glastonbury and West Hartford, the complex would make South Windsor more appealing to people looking to move, he said.
“This is the kind of thing that would make South Windsor special,” Mawhinney said during a presentation to the Council.
One of the 100 or so people who showed up at the meeting said as much.
Michael Moriarty said that he was a young professional in town who has a wife and a 2-year-old child and that the proposed recreation center/ice rinks are exactly what is needed to attract more people like him to town.
In addition to attracting families to South Windsor, the complex would give the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk a “booster shot,” according to Mawhinney.
“Evergreen Walk was envisioned as a self-sustaining community,” he said. “The only thing missing is the community.”
The ice rinks alone would bring new people from all over the state to plan their holiday shopping around their sons’ and daughters’ hockey games, said Mawhinney, noting that hockey season takes place in October, November and December, prime time to buy gifts for Hanukkah and Christmas.
Mawhinney said that now is the time to take advantage of low building costs and interest rates (as low as 3 percent). If the town doesn’t do a project like this now, then it will never have a pool, a separate recreation center or an expansion to the senior center.
“We have a small window of opportunity, and the window is closing,” he said. “The town needs to jump through that window.”
The pool was crucial for families with children on the South Windsor High girls swimming team, which hosts its home meets in Tolland, Mawhinney said. The town should have its own indoor swimming facility to support the successful program that has been self-funded for the last three years, Mawhinney said.
How Would It Work?
The arrangement would involve the creation of a 501(c)(3) entity by the developer John Finguerra to allow the complex to be constructed with bonds at an estimated rate of about 3 percent; the complex would then be leased back to the town for 30 years at an agreement between $500,000 and $1 million per year.
After 30 years, the town would buy the complex for $1. The town would not take out bonds to pay for the project and, therefore, would not need voter approval. The loan instead would appear as a line item on the town's budget every year.
The town’s recreation department would move to the new complex, with the Charles N. Enes Community Center would then have 17,000 square feet of new space to work with, Mawhinney said.
While it was reported earlier that no taxpayer dollars would go to fund the project - as the fees generated from the complex would cover the construction costs - Mawhinney said that the town would likely have to pay about $600,000 in additional revenue. Mawhinney added that the numbers he provided the council were conservative.
A Tentative Show of Support
Even with that news, some of the members of the Town Council were initially supportive of the project.
Councilor Kevin McCann said that he has been looking for a way to include a public skating rink into a proposal for some time, but could never find a realistic way of making it happen.
“To pair it with an indoor swimming pool and gym is a home run,” said McCann, who cautioned, however, that “we do have to vett the numbers.”
Still McCann noted the small window of opportunity to have a facility like the one proposed constructed with low building costs and interest rates.
Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano said that he, too, liked what he saw in the project and went a step further, asking whether it would be feasible to add a stadium to the complex.
Most of the questions from the councilors were about the projected numbers and estimates that were provided to them just that evening.
Mayor Tom Delnicki, who initially expressed his dismay over hearing about the project just a few days prior to the Council meeting Monday, appeared to soften his initial stance on the issue.
Specifically, Delnicki said that he would like to have Dan Marsh look at the numbers provided to see if they made sense. In addition, Delnicki wanted to make sure that no additional town staff would be needed at the complex.
Town Manager Matt Galligan said there wouldn’t need to be additional staff outside of lifeguards for the pool.
“This is a huge project,” Delnicki said. “Evergreen Walk is a big winner here. What do we say to businesses that have been here 30, 40 or 50 years that we just chose Evergreen Walk as the winner?”
Mawhinney said that all the businesses in South Windsor would win because of the nature of what goods and services they provide. Evergreen Walk is the type of set-up that attracts one-time gift buyers, as opposed to the businesses in the Stop & Shop complex that draw multiple visits from people in town.
Still, most councilors said they wanted to see more numbers to back up the projections provided by Mawhinney. In addition, several councilors said they were not thrilled with the prospect of setting up a rink that would essentially compete with an existing business.
South Windsor Arena Responds
Not everyone was enamored with the proposal, however.
Richard Grigorian, the owner of South Windsor Arena and Sports, said that he would “hate to be in competition with the town of South Windsor” preferring, instead, to compete with a private developer that has “skin in the game.”
Still, Grigorian remained somewhat defiant, saying that running an ice skating rink is a tough business and that the town would find itself in over its head.
“We aren’t going anywhere, we’re not leaving town,” Grigorian said, adding that he would sell his premium ice time - 5 to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and during the day during weekends, to someone else.
What’s more, several rinks that have been in the area - notably Simsbury and Enfield - are on their second or third owners.
Grigorian said that the reason why the complex was being proposed was because of a dispute over with the president of the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association, Bob Feher.
“We’ve had 40 years of good experiences, except for one or two presidents who have had unrealistic expectations,” said Grigorian, who has owned and run the arena for over 40 years. “One thing you should address is the need, save for some disparaging remarks, we’ve been in business for over 40 years and I haven’t heard anybody say anything about the quality of the ice, and that’s what you buy. It’s pretty tough to look pretty when you are 40 years old.”
Feher, however, said that anyone who says that South Windsor already has an ice rink in town is missing the point.
“We do have a rink in town, that’s the reason why so many people are here in support of this project tonight,” said Feher, who added that the South Windsor Arena was in poor condition and that the owners were not willing to work with the association regarding ice time and costs.
Feher apologized to Delnicki, saying that he did not mean to suprise the mayor with the project. Feher said that a lot of work had to be done in private so as to not jeopardize the association's deal with the South Windsor Arena.