AP NEWS

New Owners Pay $3.25M for Ice Rink

February 21, 2019

WILMINGTON -- After years of interest from the town to purchase Ristuccia Memorial Arena, town officials were surprised to learn last week it was sold to Gallant Memorial Arena LLC.

The indoor ice rink, located at 190 Main St., was sold for $3.25 million, according to a quitclaim deed filed on Feb. 5 with the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.

Richard and Susanna Gallant, of Concord, manage Gallant Memorial Arena LLC. Richard Gallant is the manager of Middlesex Islanders, LLC. The previous owner of the property was R & L Main Street Associates LLC, which is managed by Bernard Ristuccia Jr. The Sun attempted to reach Richard Gallant through the Islanders Hockey Club, but did not receive a response.

“The buyer did not record a mortgage with the deed, which indicates it was a cash transaction,” Register of Deeds Richard Howe said in an email.

Howe said the property consists of three different buildings, but only the arena was sold. According to Wilmington’s Assessor’s Office, the property is valued at $2,723,300.

Special Town Meeting in 2014 authorized the town to borrow $2.25 million to purchase the rink. Town Manager Jeff Hull said the article at that meeting came about after the town had spoken with Ristuccia about their interest in purchasing the arena.

“The concern that had been expressed by both the high school athletic director at the time and representatives from youth hockey was the challenges they were having in getting access to ice time,” Hull said. “We have a rink right in town and we were struggling finding places to play.”

Hull said Ristuccia indicated a willingness to work with the town. In 2015, the lease to Robert Rotondo, who operates the arena, was extended another three years, according to Hull. The town had been waiting for the lease to expire in 2015 to engage in a formal negotiation with Ristuccia. But Rotondo Enterprises sued Ristuccia in 2015 for engaging with the town on a potential purchase when he had a first right to refusal. In 2018, Hull said it was his understanding the lease was extended again, this time by five years.

Hull said he recalls the last time he spoke with Ristuccia about the town purchasing the arena was sometime in 2015. He said it came as a surprise to him and the selectmen that the rink was sold.

“The part that is really frustrating for many in the town is that when the rink was first constructed and went through the approval process, part of the sale to the community of constructing this rink was that it was going to be a community resource and be available to the youth of Wilmington,” Hull said. “But for the last 30 plus years, it has not really been a resource and the rates are much higher than other rinks.”

The arena was operated by a nonprofit called the Wilmington Arena Authority in the 1980s, up until Rotondo signed a lease with Ristuccia in 2005. The Wilmington Arena Authority’s application for exemption as a 501(c)(3) in 1984 stated it was:

″...established to construct and manage a skating and recreation facility for the citizens of Wilmington. This facility will provide the Wilmington High School hockey team, the Wilmington Figure Skating Club, the Wilmington Youth Hockey Association, and the Wilmington Recreation Department an opportunity to participate and compete.”

Earlier in 1984, Town Meeting approved the rezoning of the property from residential to general business so the rink could be built.

Selectman Mike McCoy said he was serving on the Planning Board when this project came before the board in the 1980s. He voted favorably.

“It was an exciting time back then for everybody, seeing this building being built,” McCoy said. “Don’t forget, we also had the Boston Bruins there, and that was exciting.”

The Boston Bruins left the Ristuccia Arena in 2016, instead moving its practices to the Warrior Ice Arena in Boston.

“I thought we always had a plate at the table. I’m a member of the Board of Selectmen and I had no idea that the thing was even sold,” McCoy said. “It’s a sad time for the town. We were a pawn in this whole thing to get more money.”

McCoy said the real losers in the town are the kids in the community. He said other sports are taken care of in town and that there is no other hockey rink in town for young players.

“We were surprised and disappointed that the rink was sold without the Town getting a chance to submit an offer, but rather than dwelling on what could have been, we are focused on securing ample, affordable ice time for our Wilmington Youth Hockey families,” Wilmington Youth Hockey Board of Directors President Scott Audette said in an email.

Audette said the goal is to enter into an agreement with the rink operator next year and beyond.

“My intent is to have a conversation with the new owners soon to understand what their plans are and I hope to establish a working relationship with them, with the idea of being able to provide a greater level of accommodation for youth hockey and high school hockey,” Hull said.

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.