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Former Hartford Whaler Partnering On NYA Skating Rink Proposal

Published: March 1, 2018

NYA Sports & Fitness is a place to go for a number of sporting activities, with the distinct exception of those taking place on ice. But that may change soon.

For those who skate, play hockey, or even have a desire to give curling a go, venturing out of town to find an ice rink may no longer be necessary.

NYA founder and former owner Peter D’Amico has joined forces with former National Hockey League (NHL) player Bob Crawford and his co-owner/operator of skating rinks, Alan Lazowski, to pitch plans for a rink that would be added to the existing NYA complex at Fairfield Hills.

If successfully completed, the rink would be situated where an existing courtyard and memorial fountain currently sits, in the rear of the building that forms a V-shape between its turf and field house wings.

Mr D’Amico told The Newtown Bee February 27, that an agreement is in place with the NYA Board to sell the facility back to D’Amico, along with his partners in the skating rink project, for $6.5 million. The addition of a rink would be subject to review and approval by various town boards.

Mr D’Amico and Mr Crawford are optimistic and say the rink, which should cost between $4 and $5 million for them to develop, could be up and running as early as January 2019. Mr Crawford said it could take as little as six months from the time the shovels go into the ground to the day the ice is open for skating, adding that weather conditions are among factors that can speed up or slow down the construction process.

Taxpayer concerns about costs to operate a rink that was initially proposed as a component of the new community center is not an issue with this project, according to Mr Crawford, because it will be a private undertaking.

Mr D’Amico emphasized the addition of a rink would not alter the existing venue. Mr Crawford added that while changing the existing space might make the project easier, that will not happen because the objective is to leave the current design unchanged for those who utilize the fields, courts, and fitness center within NYA.

“These things don’t work without community goodwill,” Mr Crawford noted.

An Experienced Team

Newtown-based Claris Construction Inc, which was behind the original NYA building project, would be hired for the skating rink addition, Mr D’Amico said.

Experience Mr Crawford and Mr Lazowski bring to the table include 23 years of ice facility management, including overseeing national award-winning staff, programs, and events. This includes Champions Skating Center, International Skating Center of Connecticut, Bolton Ice Palace, The New England Athletic Club, and Bushnell Park Skating Rink.

“Most people that get into this business get out of it,” said Mr Crawford, adding that when half a million people go through the doors of a rink per year such a business owner needs to be a people person and have a passion for the business to stay involved.

Paul Esposito, who spearheaded getting the town’s high school hockey program going and is the head coach at Newtown High School, and Mr Crawford have a mutual friend — youth hockey parent Jim Celentano — who helped bring them together last spring.

One thing led to another, and Mr Esposito, long a proponent of bringing a rink to town, introduced Mr Crawford to Mr D’Amico, and they began brainstorming on the proposal.

“He seems to have a great heart and the best interest in the kids, and making something great for the community,” Mr Esposito said of Mr Crawford.

“It would bring a lot of fun, a lot of recreation, a lot of healthy recreation to the people in this town,” added Mr Esposito, who has spent endless hours over more than seven years doing research and attending meetings to discuss the possibility of a hockey rink coming to town. “I’m ecstatic. In my opinion it’s a long overdue thing this town has needed for several years. I’m very hopeful that things work out.”

With the United States claiming gold in women’s hockey and men’s curling in this year’s Winter Olympic Games, it could be argued that interest in these sports will continue to grow. Newtown High has had an increasing number of girls’ hockey participants who team with players from other schools, including Masuk of Monroe as part of a co-op.

Long Time Coming

Mr Esposito and Kris Kenny, whose children — including daughters — play hockey together out of Danbury Ice Arena, have spent a lot of time pitching rink ideas and thought they were getting somewhere with the proposed community center before that aspect of the proposal was eliminated.

“It was going to get done,” Mr Esposito said has been their attitude all along.

Danbury Ice Arena currently serves as Newtown High School’s home rink. Travel hockey players from town venture to rinks in Danbury, Shelton, Bridgeport, among other cities in Connecticut, as well as Brewster, NY.

Mr Esposito argues that these players, as well as high school players, figure skaters, speed skaters, ice dancers, learn to skate participants, and adult hockey players who live in town alone — totaling about 300 — are enough to sustain having a rink in their home town. The facility could also host events, activities, even birthday parties.

“How many new people would join these activities when they only have to drive five minutes from their house?” Mr Esposito commented. “It is my feeling that it would take off very quickly.”

Mr Crawford also noted that people venture 10 to 20 miles away or more to access rinks to play in leagues, and take skating lessons.

The location is perfect for a skating rink, according to Mr Crawford, because of the existing recreational activities that are offered on site. Parents and their children will see the rink when they go to NYA for basketball or soccer practice, for example, and vice versa. The goal is for the various recreational venues to feed off the other.

“The more people see the opportunity the better,” Mr Crawford said.

Having a rink connected to a building that offers other sporting facilities is an ideal scenario for parents who will no longer need to drive to multiple venues, or other towns for that matter, Mr Crawford notes.
“As a parent of three children this would have been perfect for me, because I was here, there, and everywhere,” Mr Crawford said of shuttling his children around to play a variety of sports.

Mr D’Amico, a soccer coach in Newtown for 30 years, originally had NYA built ten years ago, because there was no place for teams to play in the wintertime. He still owns the club team AC Connecticut, which practices at NYA.

“This opportunity on its own doesn’t make economical sense,” said Mr Crawford, adding that the attachment to NYA makes for a perfect scenario.

Costs And Value

A rink is expensive to operate. Mr Crawford estimates, based on the other skating facilities he manages, upwards of $200,000 in annual utility costs alone — a bulk of which go toward keeping the ice surface frozen. There are a multitude of other expenses, including personnel, equipment, and replacement of equipment such as compressors, ice-making machines (the Zamboni), and the propane required to power them, that add to the annual expense over a period of time.

Mr Crawford said that in a good year, his rinks have about a five percent profit margin.

This is only possible by maximizing the opportunities to use the ice surface, which has downtime overnight as well as in the middle of the day. Although hockey will be a big part of the rink’s use, so too will be public and figure skating, lessons, camps, clinics, theater on ice, and curling, which has picked up in popularity locally since the past couple of Winter Olympic Games.

Curling lines will be put into the defensive/offensive zones within the hockey rink lines.

“It’s an hour by hour business and you grind it out,” Mr Crawford said of finding ways to keep the ice surface in use as much as possible.

Mr Crawford said the objective is to delve into the inside work, such as seating, and setting up locker rooms as well as multipurpose rooms, when the time comes to best maximize the space.

“A lot of design has to go into it,” Mr Crawford said.

NHL Cred

Mr Crawford, whose NHL career included a few years with the Hartford Whalers — highlighted by a 36-goal campaign in 1984 — and a run to the semifinals with the New York Rangers in 1986, has coached youth hockey teams to championships at the national level.

On the USA Hockey Board of Directors for nine years, this former 13-year professional player directed the USA Hockey U18 team to a bronze medal in Canada. Mr Crawford has also reinvigorated figure skating programs in his facilities, most notably the International Skating Center of Connecticut in Simsbury. A Belleville, Ontario, native, he has a passion not only for hockey but skating and other on-ice activities.

As glossy as Mr Crawford’s hockey and skating-related resume is, he is equally impressed with the possible new home to a rink in Newtown, and looks forward to creating a variety of on-ice opportunities to its residents.

“The site is gorgeous, the building is gorgeous,” Mr Crawford said. “Our goal is to create an activity that’s affordable for the community.”

NYA is leasing the land from the town, a decade into a 50-year lease, Mr D’Amico said.

“If it’s approved by the town it’s going to happen,” Mr Crawford said.

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