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Hockey Rink on St. James Property Likely Wouldn't Offer Hometown Discount

Recreation Officials Wonder Whether WYHA Would Pay Premium for Local Ice

Parents already pay big money for their children to lace up skates for one of the Wellesley Youth Hockey Association's travel teams--$1,235 per player, in most cases--and as the town considers purchasing the St. James the Great Church site, local recreation leaders are wondering whether a new hockey rink on the land would inspire those parents to pay a little more.

"I know parents would love to have a home rink," said Julie Perry, WYHA's vice president, who is about to take over for President Bill Darcey. "Right now, we have contracts with other rinks but it's piecemeal. We kind of get whatever ice time is left over. So you can't say to a team, 'You always practice Tuesdays at five.'"

Wellesley Youth Hockey's roughly 500 players practice at rinks in Weston, Brookline, Dedham, Needham and Newton. Some do practice in town, at Babson College, but do not play games there; Perry said the league hopes to work out an agreement with the school before the 2010-11 season to change that.

About half of WYHA's $375,000 annual revenue is dedicated to purchasing ice time at these venues, which charge as much as $320 per hour for their use. If the town, which does not support the league financially, were to build a rink on the St. James property, it might charge an even higher hourly rate.

"I've had conversations, and the sentiment among youth hockey people was 'Boy, we would pay a lot of money to be able to stay here and have some home games,'" Recreation Commission Chairman Andy Wrobel told his board last month. "So we could possibly charge an extra 30 or 40 dollars per hour for rink time."

According to Wrobel, the steep price would be less a product of opportunism than one of pragmatism. The town's initial cost analysis indicates the rink project's cost -- $4-5 million Wrobel told the Planning Board in May -- would exceed the facility's revenue potential. Private funding and/or above-average pricing would be necessary to make the effort sustainable, he said.

The building housing the rink would measure a modest 215 by 130 feet - a full-size ice surface alone is 200 by 85 feet - and include locker rooms, a concession stand and two levels of spectator seating, according to a preliminary design by Boston-based firm Concord Square Planning and Development. It would be just one element of a multi-sport recreation complex on the 7.85-acre property; also proposed are an outdoor soccer field and indoor swimming pool and basketball court.

"Given the goal of maximizing the number of facilities on this site, the dimensions of the [hockey] building are smaller than ideal for a facility devoted solely to ice rink sports," the firm's May 27 study of the parcel reads.

Discussions about the rink's size and price are, in many ways, premature. The town is clearly interested in striking a deal with the Archdiocese of Boston, whose 2004 decision to close the parish was upheld by the Vatican in May, but is still several steps from owning the property, let alone determining details of its reuse.

On June 14, the Board of Selectmen voted to spend $25,000 of Community Preservation Committee money to appraise the land and assess the feasability of a recreation area. Concord Square estimated the parcel's value at $3.5 million in its report.

Officials were optimistic the CPC could use some of its $5.1 million - accumulated via a 1 percent annual property tax surcharge introduced in 2003 - to buy the parcel but recently concluded a recreation complex would not meet the state's Community Preservation Act guidelines. The legislation's chief goals are "acquisition and preservation of open space and land; acquisition and creation of affordable housing; and acquisition and preservation of historic buildings and landscapes."

Housing and retail/office uses of the St. James property are also on the table.

Despite the many political face-offs yet to be won before the first hockey face-off could happen on a new rink, "The land use that received the overwhelming majority of support from the participants at the Feb. 11 public forum was recreation," according to Concord Square. "Both the outdoor (playing fields) and indoor (ice rink, pool, basketball) uses were highly desired."

"It's something we're very interested in pursuing," Perry said of the rink proposal. "It would make a huge difference for the kids."

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