TD Garden owners agreed to hold fund-raisers for Boston — but they never have
Twenty-four years ago, the owner of the Boston Garden wanted a new arena, and local lawmakers wanted a stream of funding to help build and maintain the city’s recreational facilities, such as hockey rinks.
So they reached a deal: As part of winning state approval for a new $160 million facility, home to the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins, the owner of the Garden would host three fund-raisers a year to benefit the agency that oversees the city’s recreational facilities.
And then the fund-raising deal was forgotten. It was not until this past spring, when a group of teenagers from Hyde Square — eager to find funding for a new hockey rink in their neighborhood — began researching the old agreement that anyone realized the truth: The Garden had not held even one of those promised fund-raisers.
The discovery was the result of a painstaking search that involved a civics lesson in legislative sausage-making, the close eye of a neighborhood activist, and a bit of detective work by several determined teenagers.
Now, Garden executives, state officials, and the teenagers themselves are trying to answer one final question: What happens now as a result of their find?
In separate letters to the students, TD Garden — as it is now known — and state Department of Conservation and Recreation officials acknowledged the students’ findings. TD Garden president Amy Latimer referred the students to state officials, who told the students they are reviewing “strategies going forward.”
State officials would confirm to the Globe only that they are involved in discussions now with TD Garden “regarding a resolution to the legislative requirement,” though they said it would be too early to comment on any potential disbursement of money.
Tricia McCorkle, a spokeswoman for TD Garden, pointed out that the Garden and its related organizations already raise more than $2 million a year for community programs through other charitable efforts, though she said the organization was committed to working with the DCR. “This matter was just brought to our attention, we are in early stages of discussions and are working on a resolution with DCR,” she said.
For their part, the students say TD Garden should be bound to the law and settle on a one-time payout to account for the past 24 years — one that could perhaps make their ice rink project a reality — and to begin holding fund-raisers going forward.
“No one’s questioning the law,” said one of the students, Lorrie Pearson, 17, a senior next year at Boston Latin Academy.
The students’ detective work began with their effort to raise funds to build the Jackson Square Recreation Center, a $21.5 million, 50,000-square-foot facility with a regulation-size ice rink that would be across from an MBTA stop. Though the state has dedicated some grant funds to the effort, the developer must raise the rest. The nonprofit development agency, Urban Edge, is spearheading the project, which would serve Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.
Those neighborhoods, home to some of Boston’s poorest and most at-risk youth, have not had their own indoor ice rink since the city shuttered the Melnea Cass Rink in Washington Park and Kelly Rink in Jamaica Plain in the mid-1990s due to structural problems.
Michael Reiskind, a longtime member of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, said that he complained at the time to the late state Representative Kevin Fitzgerald, who represented Jamaica Plain. He said Fitzgerald told him he would make sure that a law enabling construction of a new Boston Garden — then under consideration by the Legislature — would include provisions for a new hockey rink in the neighborhood, perhaps along the Southwest Corridor (which runs close to Jackson Square).
That didn’t happen. But, according to news coverage at the time and state law, Jeremy M. Jacobs, the developer of the new Boston Garden, ultimately agreed to hold three charity events a year, with net proceeds going to the Metropolitan District Commission, which maintained the city’s recreational facilities, such as pools and skating rinks. Those duties are now overseen by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Jacobs is the chairman of Delaware North, an umbrella corporation that owns the TD Garden, and he also owns the Boston Bruins. The Garden, which had been called FleetCenter after it was built, was renamed TD Garden in 2005 after its corporate sponsor, TD Bank.
Reiskind shared his recollections with Ken Tangvik, director of organizing and engagement for the Hyde Square Task Force, during an April meeting on the development site.
Tangvik, who said the tip “was a gift,” then deployed his youth organizers to look up the Massachusetts laws enacted in 1993, and they found, “An act furthering the establishment of a multi-purpose arena and transportation center.” One section of the law stated, “The new Boston Garden Corporation . . . shall administer . . . no less than three charitable events per year . . . and shall pay the net proceeds . . . to said Metropolitan District Commission.”
The students were astounded.
“Let’s just read this one more time,” Pearson recalled thinking.
To make sure they were right — “We didn’t want to go to the media, in case we were wrong,” said another student, 17-year-old Mabel Gondres — the students wrote letters to the Department of Conservation and Recreation asking for its interpretation of the law, and whether any funds had been collected. But they did not receive an immediate response.
The same thing happened when they attempted to deliver a letter in person to Latimer, the TD Garden president. A security guard at TD Garden told them they could not meet with her and took the letter on their behalf.
The students wrote official requests for public information, citing state and federal open records laws, asking for an accounting of funds the state has received from fund-raisers held at TD Garden.
They received their response from the DCR’s general counsel office on June 8: “The search did not reveal a responsive record,” the letter from Assistant General Counsel Bridget Connelly stated.
In other words, the students concluded, TD Garden never held any of the fund-raisers.
“I was just thinking, now we know for a fact we have something,” Pearson said.
Leo P. Roy, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, sent a separate letter that same day saying his agency has been in touch with TD Garden and “will be formulating strategies going forward.” Latimer also sent a letter on June 8 confirming the discussions.
It is not clear whether any funds raised for DCR under the 1993 law could be spent on the Jackson Square rink, because the state agency would not own that rink.
It isn’t that the students feel they should be entitled to any money the state would have collected, Gondres and Pearson said. In their communications with Roy and Latimer, they did not ask for the money directly.
But they know the funds were supposed to be directed to the maintenance and care of recreational facilities — the 1993 law says so — and so they at least thought the community-based developer of a new rink could make some claim to the money, especially after the closure of the two indoor rinks that had been operating in the area.
“It’s not that the Hyde Square Task Force wants the money, it’s for the community,” Gondres said.