Norwich chooses firm to run ice rink

The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to select Bridgeport-based Wonderland of Ice Associates to manage the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink for at least the next 10 years.
The council voted to accept the recommendation of a seven-member committee that reviewed the three rink management proposals submitted in response to the city’s advertisement seeking to turn over daily management of the rink to a private entity.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” Wonderland President Lisa Fedick said Monday night. “Running the Norwich rink is something I’ve dreamed about since the rink opened.”
Wonderland of Ice – which would operate under the name Norwich Rose Ice Associates – plans to invest close to $1 million to replace the entire cooling system in time to reopen the rink by Oct. 1.
The financially troubled rink has been operating with a temporary exterior chiller unit since last October at a cost of about $1,000 per day. The rink will close June 30.
Fedick hopes to have a contract with the city in place by July 1 to keep the Oct. 1 reopening date. She said she has a mechanical firm lined up to replace the existing failed cooling system.
According to the report from the committee, Wonderland’s proposal calls for an initial 10-year operating period followed by three 10-year options. Wonderland would pay the city 5 percent of gross receipts during the first three years and the greater of 5 percent of gross receipts or $75,000 for the following six years.
Wonderland’s proposal also includes current rink Director Doug Roberts and Assistant Director Shannon Fitzgerald in its management chart. The city signed a three-year contract with Roberts last September, and city officials have stated the need to honor that contract.
Fedick said Roberts is “half the equation” needed to turn the rink around. She said she would keep the entire Norwich rink management team in place for the future.
“We believe that the proposal from Wonderland (which intends to set up an entity named Norwich Rose Ice Associates) includes the best combination of operational transition, programming/community involvement, facilities improvements, and payments to the city for its operation of the facility,” the one-page report presented by city Comptroller Josh Pothier said.
Along with Wonderland, FMC Ice Sports of Pembroke, Mass. and Champions Skating Center of Cromwell, run by former Hartford Whaler Robert Crawford, submitted proposals. All three firms said they would replace the rink’s failed cooling system and make other mechanical upgrades.
Alderman Mark Bettencourt, who had led the effort to seek proposals for a private rink management firms, said he was pleased with the selection and the work done by the committee to evaluate the bids.
Council President Pro Tempore and Ice Rink Authority Chairman Francois “Pete,” Desaulniers agreed with the choice. Desaulniers has been at odds with Bettencourt and other aldermen over the decision to seek private management proposals, believing the rink authority should continue to run the rink with new equipment funded by the city.
The authority will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the summer closure, the transition to a new management firm and personnel issues.

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