A few more thoughts on the skating rink

To add to last night’s thoughts:

I should note that — though this seems like an anti-skating blog — I do, in fact, ice skate on occasion, and I even enjoy ice skating.

I do not enjoy a lack of public dialogue.

There was a master plan for the Worcester Common “restoration” quite a few years ago; an ice rink was first anticipated as early as winter 2003.

Yes, that’s right — this restoration has been going on so long that Tom Hoover (remember him?) said in January 2002 that “[b]y winter next year, I will be making a fool of myself on skates along with Congressman McGovern.”  [Telegram and Gazette, “$5M makeover of Common ; Restoration work slated to begin this spring”, 9 January 2002]

Note that — at least as part of the 2002 plan — there were supposed to be gardens near the Civil War soldiers memorial.  I haven’t heard about these plans recently.

In 2005, we were told that there was going to be a bicycle pavilion.  [Telegram and Gazette, “Redesigned retreat ; Refurbished Common is uncommonly inviting”, 23 September 2005]

In 2008, that pavilion was supposed to be used for bicyclists in the summer and skaters in the winter. [Telegram and Gazette, “Ice idea?: Construction bumps summer events”, 7 July 2008]

Why am I referencing the Telegram so much?  Because I can’t seem to find the master plan for the Common on an obvious place on the city website.

I have no idea if the intention for a pavilion was only to house the chiller equipment, which is no longer needed because “there is no longer a need to construct a new building to house the chiller equipment for the skating rink, or for separate utilities to service the facility, thus significantly reducing its operating costs.”  [Telegram and Gazette, “Ice rink is a maybe this winter: City works to raise $125K from private sources, 15 October 2012]

So — in short –a pavilion seems to no longer be part of the plan.  And the average person who’s been paying a bit of attention over the past decade might have thought that the pavilion was supposed to be for people, in both summer and winter, but now we’re being told that it was for equipment.

I also have no idea if the plan was always to solicit private funds to pay for the skating rink, or if that’s the only way we could finally make this work.   Because, of course, I can’t find the master plan in any of the obvious places.

I am tired of being told I should feel “grateful to those in the community who continue to recognize the potential of our great City and step up time and time again to make things happen.”

We have relied on private donors for Wheels to Water, we have relied on private donors for the library being open on Sundays, and we will rely on private donors for this ice rink.  And we never talk about what will happen when those private donors fall on hard times, or decide their money should go somewhere else.

I didn’t blog about a short discussion that happened at the last library district task force meeting, but it’s worth mentioning.

Someone at the meeting asked what would happen to PILOT money for the library if the colleges want the parking lot for the hockey arena complex, and we don’t let them have it.

Which just about summed up everything that is wrong with PILOT and with these kinds of donation schemes in general.  It’s not just “free money” — it might not last forever, and it makes the relationship with the donor more complicated.

It’s lovely that private organizations have stepped up and paid for the ice rink.   But city and federal taxpayers have paid millions of dollars already for the Common renovations.

If a private employer who sponsors the rink this year, or a college that helps fund the rink, asks for so many free tickets for their employees or students, would they receive them? (I’m not saying that’s happening — but it could.)  Why would they be more entitled to that than someone who’s paid their property tax for 10+ years, while this project has dragged on?

Would we be less inclined to question the donor in another situation, or let them have their way in a dispute, lest we lose PILOT money, or funding for the ice rink, or whatever else we decide needs to be funded by private means?

This is a conversation worth having.

Some people (on the Telegram website and elsewhere) have raised concerns about there being a cost at all for the skating rink.  I have no problem paying, but I do have a problem with there being no community discussion about the pricing.  Perhaps residents would rather have had a higher price for adults and no charge for those under 12 or 13, as the Boston Frog Pond does.

And I cannot be the only resident who wonders which bathroom facilities my kids could use.

Don’t get me wrong — I like the idea of skating on the Common, and I hope it’s a great success.

But the questions about whether we should be budgeting for the ice rink (versus relying on grant funds), where the Common master plan as a whole stands, and what a good pricing structure would look like, all remain unanswered and undiscussed.

It’s not about being negative or positive about the ice rink.  It’s about why there’s no good public discussion, about framing conversations beyond the usual snark and tackling some very real questions people want answered.