Ristuccia, Town Differ on Path to Rink’s Sale
WILMINGTON -- While the town has expressed both surprise and frustration with the recent sale of Ristuccia Memorial Arena, the former owner of the rink said it isn’t his fault it wasn’t sold to the town.
Bernie Ristuccia said if the town had listened to him years ago, the rink would have been theirs.
Back in 2014, the town expressed interest in purchasing the rink and approved an article at Special Town Meeting seeking to authorize the town to borrow $2.25 million to purchase it.
Ristuccia said he told Town Manager Jeff Hull that they should hold off on a Town Meeting article until the lease was up with Robert Rotondo, the rink operator. Ristuccia was subsequently sued by Rotondo, who said he had a first right to refusal.
“I knew the Town Meeting was a mistake and I should have somehow stopped it,” Ristuccia said.
Hull said that is not the way he recalled the events. He said he didn’t remember any conversation in which Ristuccia warned against the Special Town Meeting article, which was the only way the town could have moved forward with potential acquisition of the property.
“He talked about wanting to fortify the Ristuccia name and the legacy of giving back to the town,” Hull said. “He was basically looking to ensure that his mother’s name remained on the building, so it was established that this was the Eleanor M. Ristuccia Arena.”
The rink was recently sold for $3.25 million to Gallant Memorial Arena LLC, according to a quitclaim deed filed with the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds on Feb. 5.
“I don’t feel bad for the town because it isn’t my fault that they didn’t get the rink. It’s their fault,” Ristuccia said. “The lawsuit was settled last May or June. Nobody from the town called me for months. They knew the lawsuit was settled, so if they were interested, why didn’t they call me?”
Ristuccia said that early on, wording in the lease for the rink was modified so that the goal was not to exclusively serve Wilmington residents, but everyone. He said complaints about the rates to skate there have been made from the beginning. Hull said rates began to increase in the 1990s and early 2000s, and have done so on an annual basis since then.
“I never had anything to do with the operation of the arena,” Ristuccia said. “How the town treated me when they wanted to buy it, they basically threw me under the bus. Once I got sued, I didn’t hear any more from the town.”
In December 2018, Ristuccia said he was approached about selling the rink and moved forward with the offer.
From Hull’s perspective, he said Ristuccia should have known that the town remained interested in the rink. Hull said the town’s attorney was in touch with both Ristuccia’s and Rotondo’s attorneys up until the settlement, trying to work out arrangements to provide more favorable ice time and rates for Wilmington youth.
Hull said if Ristuccia was still willing to sell to the town, but at a higher price, the town would have worked quickly to call another Special Town Meeting to authorize the borrowing of more money.
“The town never lost interest,” Hull said. “At the end of the day, he decided he was no longer interested in working with the town and wanted to make as much money as possible off the rink.”
The desire all along from the town has been to work with whoever the rink manger is to provide reasonable ice time and rates for Wilmington, according to Hull.
But from Ristuccia’s view, the town should have reached out after the settlement. Back in 2014, Ristuccia expressed a willingness to sell the rink to Wilmington at $2.25 million, despite having the ability to sell it for a higher price.
“I would’ve worked with them but they never called,” Ristuccia said.
Hull said the town has not yet been in touch with the new owner of Ristuccia Memorial Arena, but the intent is to do so.
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.