John T. Wright Arena Task Force
I have pasted below an OpEd of mine that was published in the Bergen Record on this past Sunday, June 16, 2013 in case you may have missed it.
Mayor Frank Huttle
Opinion: Charting a new course for Englewood arena
SUNDAY JUNE 16, 2013, 6:40 AM
BY FRANK HUTTLE
Frank Huttle is mayor of Englewood.
THERE COMES a time when a community must decide whether it is ready and willing to move forward into the future or whether it would rather idle in the past. Now is the time for the City of Englewood to embrace our future by determining, once and for all, the fate of the John T. Wright Arena at Mackay Park.
When the Ice Arena opened in 1982, it was seen as an opportunity to bring our community together and give our youth a safe recreational space. Unfortunately, as The Record correctly noted, more out-of-town visitors than Englewood youth have utilized the rink due to a lack of affordable and accessible programming. I made a commitment to change this when I took office as mayor.
To that end, a plan was presented to the community that would have authorized a non-profit organization to operate the Ice Arena through an innovative public-private philanthropic partnership. The city would have paid for the capital improvements necessary to reopen the arena after Superstorm Sandy in exchange for increased ice time for Englewood youth and year-round recreation programs coordinated with the city’s Department of Recreation.
Three council members supported funding these improvements to pave the way for a revived arena better able to serve the youth of our city, especially those in our 4th Ward. Two, however, voted to pay primarily for the roof replacement without addressing other concerns required to open the arena, in effect choosing the status quo.
Both approaches failed and so now Englewood must decide whether we close the arena or pay to reopen it in some capacity. This decision is one that affects the entire city, particularly the 4th Ward in which the arena is located. It is therefore only right that all residents have a voice in the decision-making process.
This process began with several public forums to engage the community, including the mayor’s Town Hall Meeting at Community Baptist Church. I recently formed the advisory task force comprised of residents from across the city to make recommendations to the council and myself. While some, such as The Record, view the discussions as contentious, I see our city coming together to create a new course for the arena.
Englewood is not divided. We are a vibrant community of well-informed and engaged residents. Democracy is at its best when we all have a stake and we all take a stand on our collective future. I am proud of Englewood’s long tradition of strong public involvement and I am pleased that residents are expressing their views on the arena.
The John T. Wright Arena at Mackay Park is not a symbol of past divisions, but a reminder of a promise Englewood made three decades ago to the youth and families of our community. It is time to take action without rehashing old fights. I look forward to hearing new, creative and inclusive solutions in the weeks and months ahead from the task force and city residents. Our children deserve nothing less.
I have pasted below an Editorial written by The Record on the John T. Wright Ice Arena.
It was published on June 14, 2013.
Mayor Frank Huttle
The Record: On the front burner
Friday June 14, 2013, 8:02 AM
GOVERNING a city as economically diverse as Englewood certainly has its challenges. Within the city’s approximately 5 square miles is a mix of working-, middle- and upper-class families with different concerns for their quality of life.
With officials now debating the fate of the city’s ice rink, the John T. Wright Arena, it’s important for them to consider the concerns of all residents and neighborhoods. Having an ice rink can be a great attraction for a city, but the well-being of all residents must be the priority in Englewood.
Mayor Frank Huttle wants to put together a 15-member task force to help the City Council decide the future of the rink, which has been closed since Superstorm Sandy destroyed the roof. A task force of that size can be unwieldy, but on the plus side, having 15 members can bring passionate debate and diverse opinion. We hope it also will help create a plan that can truly benefit the city.
There are a variety of opinions on the landmark’s value.
Many people in the largely working-class 4th Ward, where the rink is located, feel it serves only wealthy city residents along with out-of-towners who rent ice time for hockey teams. They want the city to focus instead on improving the facilities at MacKay Park, which surrounds the rink. Many residents would also like the city to build a community center to provide children with more things to do. Suggestions have included turning the rink property into that type of center or using a former elementary school a block away from the park that is now boarded up.
Others say the rink should be preserved and want the city to make the necessary repairs — which include more than just the roof — to get the facility operating again. But the mayor says he would not support reopening the rink unless it becomes a place that welcomed all of Englewood.
That could be a challenge, especially as the city’s budget is already limited and tentative plans are for the city to refurbish the rink by borrowing money. Still, this is an endeavor officials should embrace with genuine effort as they determine their priorities.
If the city is to spend a large sum of money, it should be on a project with broad appeal. The city needs to invest in its youth, and an ice rink alone isn’t enough. Like all cities, Englewood has issues with crime. The job of the mayor’s task force should be to focus on developing effective programs and resources for local children. That means a refurbished ice rink, but could also mean improved facilities at MacKay Park.
There aren’t many municipalities with their own ice rinks. Englewood has a valuable resource. And it should make sure it uses that resource to benefit the entire community.
I have pasted below an Article that was published in the Bergen Record in case you may have missed it.
It was first published on June 9, 2013.
Mayor Frank Huttle
Ice rink is at the center of a divided Englewood
Sunday, June 9, 2013
BY REBECCA BAKER
From the day it opened more than 30 years ago in the heart of Englewood’s minority neighborhood, the Mackay Park ice rink held the promise of being a symbol of inclusion, a place where the wealthiest and poorest residents could come together and have fun.
But over the years, the John T. Wright Arena has, instead, become a symbol of privilege and division, as well-off residents and out-of-town teams began claiming the rink as their own, making some residents, particularly those in the working-class 4th Ward, feel unwelcome.
“The symbol that I would use to describe what this building has become is one of an invasion — an occupation,” said Melvin Drakeford, head of the Mackay Park Legacy Committee, a community booster group.
Those grievances exposed long-standing racial and class divisions in this small city of 30,000 that, in the past, has seen protests over school segregation and street clashes over civil rights. More recently, 4th Ward residents objected last fall to outsourcing by the public school district, whose student population remains overwhelmingly black and Hispanic.
Their anger over about 100 employees losing their jobs carried over this year and contributed, officials say, to derailing the city’s plans to repair and renovate the Mackay Park arena, which now sits dormant.
The divisions are largely rooted in frustration over how, and on whom, the city spends taxpayer money. Leaders and activists in the 4th Ward say the city has made the rink a high priority while overlooking other needs, such as a community center, and allowing their neighborhood — including Mackay Park — to decline.
“The rink has not really served the whole community, especially the community in the 4th Ward,” said Shirley Smith, a former school board member who has lived in the 4th Ward for nearly 50 years.
Those resentments helped fuel opposition to the city’s plan to borrow $675,000 to fix the rink, which was heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Councilman Wayne Hamer, who represents the 4th Ward, cast the deciding vote that defeated the borrowing plan, one day after scores of residents criticized it at a public meeting in a Baptist church.
“[Opponents] may have had a chip on their shoulder because of the political abuse they’ve received over the years,” said James “Sid” Jordan, a retired builder who served on the Planning Board for 30 years. “They were ignored.”
Mayor Frank Huttle wants that to change. He is asking the residents from all parts of Englewood who have been the most outspoken about the ice rink to serve on a 15-member task force that will advise the City Council on what to do with the shuttered arena. Huttle said he would not support reopening the rink unless it becomes a place that welcomed all of Englewood.
“If we’re going to have an ice arena, it’s going to be for the kids, for Englewood kids, not for kids living across the 70 towns in Bergen County,” he said,
Named after the city’s first black councilman, the ice rink opened in 1982 and initially was a source of community pride.
“When [the rink] was first built, it was exciting,” Smith said. “People came, and there was a good turnout from all the wards.”
The city paid for the rink with federal funding and a state Green Acres grant. Putting it in Mackay Park, a place of cultural significance to Englewood’s black community and which has played host to church picnics and civil rights rallies, was also a sign that times had changed — the area around the park was the scene of three days of rock-throwing, firebombing and looting during civil rights demonstrations in 1967.
But the ice rink struggled to pay for itself. After it operated in the red for two years, the city gave a 25-year contract to a private operator, Mackay Ice Arena Inc. To turn a profit, the private operator increasingly came to rely on hockey teams from communities such as Tenafly and other outside groups who could afford hundreds of dollars per hour for ice time.
“A lot of children from the 4th Ward were not able to use it, and interest went away,” Smith said.
Larry Reid, the former longtime rink operator, has said many of the figure skaters who used the rink for private lessons were from the East Hill, the city’s wealthiest neighborhood. He said he tried to involve the entire community with learn-to-skate programs and public skating hours, with mixed results.
Councilwoman-at-large Lynne Algrant said more people skated in the past few years, but the rink didn’t draw many 4th Ward residents, who had come to view it as a private club for their wealthier neighbors. “Of course people [in the 4th Ward] hated the ice arena,” she said.
When the long-term contract with Reid expired in 2009, the City Council approved a series of one-year extensions, which Algrant said included more free ice time for residents, and debated how to make the rink more accessible. Last year, the city advertised for a non-profit group to manage the rink for 10 years, with the stipulation that the new operator offer year-round programs with the profits made from skating and hockey.
Three groups offered to run the rink, and a divided council chose the Boys & Girls Club of Garfield. Huttle, as mayor, had to cast a tie-breaking vote to hire the Boys & Girls Club after the council deadlocked 2-2. Jack Drakeford, the 4th Ward councilman, had recently died and his seat was still vacant.
Councilmen Eugene Skurnick and Marc Forman were opposed, saying the organization had no experience running an ice rink; Councilman Michael Cohen, who represents the 2nd Ward, and Algrant were for it, saying they wanted a “brand name” connected to the rink and praised the club’s youth programs.
After the vote, the council agreed to invest $450,000 in the rink, removing an underground oil tank, buying a new Zamboni ice-surfacing vehicle and installing a new cooling tower, heating system and pipes. The arena was nearly ready for its grand reopening when Superstorm Sandy shredded the roof and shut it down for the first time in its history.
The tipping point for 4th Ward residents seemed to be when the city announced plans to double down on its investment and spend nearly $1 million, some of which would come from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to repair the roof and refurbish the interior. That plan galvanized opponents who said it was time to take a stand against what they saw as the city’s misplaced goals.
“It was about the rink being made a priority over any and everything that the community was thinking about,” said Melvin Drakeford, who is not related to the late councilman.
The perception of past slights has made 4th Ward residents quick to take offense, even when city officials say their actions are innocent.
In a recent flap unrelated to the rink, an outspoken community activist questioned if the city was “at war” with the 4th Ward after it removed debris and topsoil from a vacant lot that had been used as a community garden. It left a “pond” after rainstorms this spring. According to officials, the city had been waiting until the ground dried out to replenish the topsoil.
Algrant said she understands the frustration on both sides but said residents didn’t give the Boys & Girls Club, or the city’s plan to fix the rink, a chance to succeed.
“There is a wound in the community that is absolutely legitimate,” she said. “But I think a lot of things are being conflated.”
Algrant and Huttle blame Skurnick for using the 4th Ward’s sensitivities for political gain by spreading rumors that the city was trying to outsource its Recreation Department by bringing in outsiders from Garfield. Those rumors came on the heels of the Board of Education’s decision to outsource nearly 100 secretaries and classroom assistants, many of whom were black and Hispanic women with ties to the 4th Ward.
Skurnick declined to respond to the charges, and city officials said the Recreation Department was never in jeopardy. But Algrant acknowledged that some people might have been more willing to believe the rumors because of built-up resentment toward the rink.
“I understand where it comes from,” she said. “But I also have to say that the level of it was built upon and drummed up by a calculated misinformation and disinformation campaign.”
Hamer, who was appointed to fill Jack Drakeford’s unexpired term, said his opposition was based on the city’s hazy plans for the rink. He said no one explained what programs would be offered once skating season ended or how they would be funded if skating and hockey programs failed to turn a profit.
“If it could’ve been done in a clear way, I think all of that [opposition] would have been blunted,” he said.
Others saw the city’s plan as a poor substitute for a community center, something that 4th Ward residents say they’ve spent decades lobbying for, ever since the city’s former community center on Armory Street became the privately run Bergen Family Center.
“I think anything short of a community center after waiting this long of a period of time is going to meet resistance,” Melvin Drakeford said.
The city’s reluctance to pursue the idea, some community activists say, has caused long-held resentment to smolder.
“It’s really upsetting, because 4th Ward people feel like they’re being ignored,” Smith said. “That’s caused a lot of division in the whole city.”
I have posted below for your reference the Formation Letter of the John T. Wright Ice Arena Task Force.
Mayor Frank Huttle
I wanted to share with you a mail piece that was sent out in support of Recreation and Athletic Programs providing our children with a safe and secure place to play at the John T. Wright Arena.
The mailer is posted directly below for your convenience.
Once again I would urge you all to attend the upcoming Council Meeting to be held on Tuesday, February 26th at 7:30pm at the Municipal Court, 75 South Van Brunt Street. It will be a critical meeting to decide the fate of the recreational and athletic programs at the John T. Wright Arena. I would encourage you all to attend the meeting and weigh in on this most important matter.
Mayor Frank Huttle III
I would like to invite you to a very important Town Hall Meeting that I will be hosting on the partnership that we have created with the Boys and Girls Club of Garfield involving youth recreational programs both during the school day, after 3 and weekends at the John T. Wright Ice Arena, MacKay Park and other City facilities, the Boys and Girls Club of Englewood.
This Town Meeting comes at an important time. The City Council in 2011 overwhelming voted to re-open the John T. Wright Ice Arena last year. I had deep concern that, should the Ice Arena re-open, it must provide substantial ice skating programs to our children and much more. My goal remains that the Arena cannot be about “Ice in Isolation” but must be a year round facility offering a variety of recreational programs for our children.
After close to two years of work, on October 1st of last year a partnership was created with the Boys and Girls Club of Garfield that would create the Boys and Girls Club of Englewood (the program name having been approved by the Boys and Girls Club of America) with a full set of school day and after 3 programs for our City’s Youth. Together with a leadership grant from Benzel- Busch Motor Car Corp., which enabled the Laureus Foundation and Coaches Across America to join the partnership and with participation by the School District, these programs will be historic in scope.
The larger vision is to create a public – non-profit – philanthropic partnership between the City, the Boys and Girls Club and other non-profits, and private individual donors. This Public/Private partnership would allow the programs to be robust and run indefinitely, benefiting our children for years to come. This is the same model that I used successfully when reinventing the Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC) as one of the leading performing arts and educational centers in the State. It is also important to highlight that 100% of profits made by the Boys and Girls Club will go directly to Englewood youth programs.
That vision and the programs it would bring are in jeopardy at present due to lack of full Council support of the agreement with the Boys and Girls Club that the Council previously voted on. With decades of neglect at the John T. Wright Ice Arena combined with the effects of Superstorm Sandy, the Ice Arena requires a commitment by the City. The recently introduced Bond Ordinance is that commitment, but the real issue here is not about the capital improvements it’s about the opportunity for our children.
I asked the Council and it voted to introduce the Bond Ordinance to promote an unfiltered, full and open public discussion on this Ordinance and allow each resident the opportunity to fully participate, weigh in and share their opinions on these important decisions before the Council votes upon it later this month.
The total cost of the capital improvements would be substantially covered by insurance proceeds and the rental income on the property, with little annual cost to the taxpayer. Should the Council vote to replace the roof only this month or if it refused to make the necessary improvements to assure the facility is safe, the Boys and Girls Club year round programs will be lost and the facility will continue to be an eye sore in MacKay Park.
The John T. Wright Ice Arena is just one vehicle to deliver these programs and there is opportunity to expand them to other City facilities but this is the critical first step.
I would ask that you please attend and participate in this important meeting and also make you fellow residents aware of it as well, particularly grandparents, parents and school age children. Please ask them to join us and let their voices be heard!
The meeting will be held on Monday, February 11th at 6.30 PM at Community Baptist Church. I have posted an invitation right below this post for your convenience. Please forward it via email or distribute it in any way you wish.
I’m looking forward to seeing you there!
Mayor Frank Huttle
Please see the invitation below and join me for a very important Town Hall Meeting that I will be hosting on the partnership that we have created with the Boys and Girls Club of Garfield involving youth recreational programs both during the school day, after 3 and weekends at the John T. Wright Ice Arena, MacKay Park and other City facilities, the Boys and Girls Club of Englewood. I hope that you join me there and share your thoughts during the open discussion.
Mayor Frank Huttle