Coney Island’s ‘Undiscovered’ Ice Rink – QNS.com

Coney Island’s ‘Undiscovered’ Ice Rink

By Joe Maniscalco

Talk about Coney Island development long enough and the conversation will inevitably turn to the need for more recreational facilities. The issue came up at the Coney Island Development Corporation’s last public meeting held in May, and it came up again at Astella Development Corp’s meeting on improving Mermaid Avenue last week. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a rink?” one resident said at the latter meeting – completely forgetting that Abe Stark Rink at West 19th Street and Surf Avenue has some of the best ice in the city. And that’s the problem in the eyes of many in Coney Island. “It’s underutilized,” said Eddie Mark, president of the Coney Island Neighborhood Organization. “It’s been there a long time and the community hasn’t benefited from it.” While the rink operates daily from September through May, it is almost exclusively devoted to established hockey clubs and figure skating programs. General skate sessions – where anyone with the price of admission can use the ice – is limited to just five hours on the weekend. Dennis Clark is the concessionaire who operates the Parks Department facility. He and his family also operate skating rinks at Clove’s Lake Park on Staten Island and Flushing Meadows in Queens. According to Clark, the concessionaires had approached the Astella Development Corp. and area schools about making the rink more accessible, but were met with little interest. “Even if it were open more [often] it’s still only one venue,” said Astella Development Corp. Executive Director Judy Orlando. What Orlando said the community needed was an “all-encompassing facility” that catered to a variety of sports and activities. That’s just the kind of venue the old NYC Site Selection Board outlined when the Abe Stark Skating Rink was being planned back in the late 60’s, according to longtime community activist Lou Powsner. Back then the venue was billed not only as a skating rink, but also a place for concerts and festivals in the spring, and basketball in the fall. “It’s a loss for the community,” Powsner said. “It could be used for so many other uses the way it was intended.” At least one concert was held inside the facility as recently as 1997 when one of Marty Markowitz’ Coney Island summer concerts featuring Garry Puckett, Grassroots, Animals and Yardbirds was rained out at Asser Levy Park. “The concessionaire needs to be more flexible and not just use it for seasonal activity,” said Mark. We could have meetings there or trade shows. Things like that can happen, but there are too many restrictions.” The Parks Department says that it is happy with the way Abe Stark is being operated. Clark argues that the facility, which in addition to its regulation-size hockey rink, also boasts locker rooms, bleachers for 1500 spectators, first aid station and skate concession, was never intended for general skating. To be sure, the facility does provide a vital service – hockey venues are scarce. Abe Stark provides space for about 800 kids who play in the Greater New York City Ice Hockey League, as well as squads from Xavarian and St. Edmund’s high schools. The Brooklyn Blades, an adult women’s league, also played at Abe Stark, but left after a reported scheduling conflict with the concessionaire. The league now plays at Chelsea Piers while also maintaining a co-ed hockey clinic for both children and adults at Kate Wollman Rink in Prospect Park. “He [Clark] has his niche, he has his clientele,” said Mark. “Nobody’s knocking them. It’s hard to find. But at the same time, if you have girl scouts that want to come in during the week they should be able to do that.” The Clark concession has one year remaining on its present three-year contract with the city. He’s operated the rink since 1990. Once the contract expires, the present concessionaire must begin the process of applying for a new contract, which Ron Lieberman, director of the city’s Department of Revenue & Concessions, expects to be significantly longer than the three-year contract Clark now holds. The longer contract is the city’s way of generating more interest in the open bidding process. According to Lieberman, the economics of running a ice skating facility makes it very difficult to find qualified bidders. In addition to an applicant’s experience and willingness to invest in the facility, Lieberman said that the city would look at how the community would benefit from awarding a contract to a concessionaire – including things like its willingness to hire from the community and gearing programs to neighborhood residents. How the city maintains existing public facilities like the Abe Stark rink is of paramount importance to Coney Island residents anticipating a massive new plan by the CIDC to revitalize the neighborhood. One of key features of which is the construction of a cultural center on the western end of Coney Island, much like the one Orlando favors. But the city’s track record in administering such facilities leaves many with questions. “That’s the concern we have about new venues coming in and not being run properly,” said Mark. “We don’t know about the next public land being run by a private person. Hopefully, they’ll listen to what’s happening and do better.”

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