AP NEWS

Wonderland of Ice fights downtown rinks

March 19, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — The operators of Wonderland of Ice want their landlord, the City Council, to turn down a $15 million private plan to build two skating rinks downtown.

“I would just ask you, does this proposed Ice Palace fill a void, or is it going to take business from other facilities?” Lisa Ann Fedick, who runs Wonderland out of the municipal skating facility at 123 Glenwood Ave., told council members Monday.

Fedick strongly believes the latter. So she and partner John Ferguson — who had mostly adopted a wait-and-see approach since Mayor Joe Ganim announced the Park City Ice Palace project last September — attended Monday’s regular council meeting.

“We don’t want to be confrontational. That’s not our intention,” Fedick said in an interview afterward. “If I honestly thought the city needed more rinks, I’d be the first to say so.”

The Ice Palace would be built on city-owned land at 1269 Main St. The council is still awaiting a formal proposal.

But on Feb. 27 the Palace’s developers, who have various backgrounds in the skating industry, gave an informal presentation to council members. That meeting was organized after council President Aidee Nieves cast doubt on the the need for another skating facility in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media.

Victor Baryshevtsev, a member of the development team, subsequently sought to reassure council members, “We definitely do not (want) to be any competition to Wonderland of Ice. And we’re not.” He listed several different programs and events that, he said, would not duplicate Wonderland’s operation.

Baryshevtsev also insisted in February that the situation in Fairfield County is “critical” when it comes to the lack of skating space.

And Bill Coleman, Bridgeport’s deputy director of economic development, reiterated at that same Feb. 27 meeting the Ganim administration’s position that there was plenty of room for both Wonderland and the Ice Palace to operate and thrive.

“We feel there’s money to be made without hurting Wonderland,” Coleman had said.

Following Baryshevtsev’s presentation, many council members praised the Ice Palace concept, though Nieves was still skeptical.

Fedick said the council should organize a meeting to ask questions of her and of Baryshevtsev whom, she added, formerly worked at Wonderland.

“If you have questions, have a panel. Put me up there, and Victor,” she said. “But it’s all one-sided. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

Ferguson added, “30 years we’ve been here. This is what we do for a living. ... They don’t give her (Fedick) any respect.”

‘Never thought of it’

Park City Ice Palace was announced shortly after the Ganim administration and the council struck a new lease agreement with Wonderland that runs through 2038 and requires Fedick and Ferguson to invest $500,000 on several dozen upgrades.

Part of Fedick’s message Monday was that the council should be wary of damaging a municipal operation.

“Wonderland of Ice is your facility,” Fedick said. “It belongs to the city.”

She told Hearst her contract does not contain a clause to prevent Bridgeport from entering into any other deals that might be viewed as business competition. Fedick and Ferguson said such a precaution had seemed unnecessary.

“Never thought of it,” said Ferguson.

“In retrospect I’m kicking myself,” Fedick added.

She and Ferguson also handed out to council members a 20-page presentation outlining what they do, awards and affiliations with Olympic athletes, and providing information about the ice skating industry.

According to that document, rinks in Milford, Norwalk, Greenwich and Danbury have plenty of “prime ice time available for purchase.”

“With everything we do, our ice is not 100 percent utilized,” Fedick told Hearst Monday.

She also said that, eventually, Wonderland would likely lose some business from Sacred Heart University because the school, in Fairfield on the border with Bridgeport’s North End, is building its own ice rink.

Sacred Heart confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the university “is considering building a hockey arena. If we decided to go ahead with it, we will be presenting a proposal to the town of Fairfield in the coming months.”

Baryshevtsev told the council in February that five unnamed high school teams were “already committed” to using the Ice Palace.

“Are these five new high schools?” Fedick asked at Monday’s council meeting. “Or are you just taking from other (skating) facilities?”

Coleman and Economic Development Director Tom Gill attended Monday’s meeting for the scheduled vote on a downtown housing development announced at the same time by Ganim as the Ice Palace. That project, spearheaded by local developer John Guedes, was almost unanimously approved.

Gill declined comment afterward on Fedick’s comments to the council.