The Bowser administration and the leaders of the nonprofit that oversees D.C.’s only public ice rink reached a settlement for the expansion of the facility — but a key council member doesn’t like the deal.
The mayor’s office reached a formal agreement on the Fort Dupont Ice Arena (FDIA) located in Ward 7 with the Fort Dupont Ice Arena board of directors on Feb. 19.
Willen Polak, board chairman, lauded the agreement.
“The new 2-rink arena has been a dream for the FDIA kids and their families for years,” Polak said. “This agreement with the District of Columbia now puts the new rink on a clear, even if steep, path for becoming a reality. Under the agreement reached with the city, when the FDIA raises $3 million, the District will award the construction contract for the new 2-rink arena.”
Polak said if $3 million can be raised by Feb. 1, 2020, “the first shovel in the ground could be as early as October 2020.” Noting raising that type of money would be a “heavy lift,” he nevertheless said it could be done.
“We will now focus our energy and support on the task of raising money and are aiming for $3 million by next February,” Polak said.
The FIDA has started a crowdfunding page for the effort.
Polak thanked Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), City Administrator Rashad Young, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray (D) “for their leadership in reaching this milestone.”
However, Gray said he didn’t like the deal.
“They did negotiate an agreement, but I don’t understand why it had to be school funding versus the rink,” Gray said, pointing out that the city wanted to redirect about $21 million to schools that badly needed repairs instead of paying for the rink’s expansion. “To me it’s not either-or.”
Gray said that the Bowser administration could easily find the money to pay for the expansion, pointing out that the administration had no problem funding the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Ward 8 in Congress Heights and the new Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest.
Bowser told a Ward 3 Democratic Club meeting on Jan. 31 that the $21 million for the arena’s upgrade “was just sitting there” in the city’s budget and could be better utilized repairing schools, adding that funding for the arena could be delayed until the 2020 budget cycle.
When the FDIA got wind of what the mayor wanted to do, they organized a social media campaign and instituted a strategy that included visiting council members, community leaders and the media.
Washington Capitals principal owner Ted Leonsis and the National Hockey League have been among the major donors to fund the expansion of the rink.
People throughout the District and surrounding areas use the ice arena, and schools such as Gonzaga Catholic High School and Catholic University use it for games and competitions. More than 3,000 children use the rink for skating practice, to volunteer and go to summer camp.
Delano Hunter, acting director for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said he will work to see that the rink operates well and can be utilized by all District residents and others.
Tyrell Holcomb, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F, where the rink is located, expressed support for the agreement.
“I feel the deal is in the best interest of the community,” Holcomb said. “It is important that residents understand that the Department of Parks and Recreation doesn’t just focus on football and basketball. The deal also shows that advocacy works and this was the result of good advocacy.”