The teens who discovered TD Garden failed to host local sports fund-raisers? They won’t get their ice rink, after all
It appears the youth of Jackson Square won’t be getting their ice rink, after all.
In a feat of heroic fund-raising and investigative work, neighborhood teenagers had forced the company that runs TD Garden to cough up millions of dollars for the project, after discovering the sports giant failed to host fund-raisers for local recreational centers for years under a decades-old agreement with the state.
But it wasn’t enough. Financial challenges have caused Urban Edge, a community organization that develops property around Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, to abandon plans for a Jackson Square Recreation Center.
“This was not a quick or easy decision,” said Marty Jones, Urban Edge’s interim CEO. “That was one of the hardest conversations about this process. . . . The youth put a lot of heart into this and showed up a lot of smart people.”
The organization had been raising funds for the project for nearly 20 years, and had already sketched out operations and programming designs. But it could not fulfill the ongoing financial support the center would require, raising only $17 million for a project that has now ballooned to $50 million.
“It became clear that it was not feasible to proceed with it,” the organization said on its website.
The decision was a blow to youth activists at the nearby Hyde Square Task Force, whose fund-raising efforts and drive to challenge one of Boston’s biggest institutions — as well as their calls for local officials to hold TD Garden accountable — captured the hearts of Bostonians, who became their cheerleaders.
Jonah Muniz, one of the activists working on the project, said he was disheartened by the decision, but he hopes Urban Edge can keep the funds that were raised in the community, for youth programming.
“I think it was the idea of community, and building, that we were most attracted to,” said Muniz, 17, who will be entering his senior year at the O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
The recreation center, a two-story project complete with an ice rink and a turf field on the second floor, would have created the only permanent ice rink in the neighborhood, home to some of Boston’s poorest and most at-risk youth. The ice rink would have replaced two in the area that were closed by the state in the early 1990s.
Urban Edge said at times that it was nearing its fund-raising goals of just below $30 million five years ago. But, as time passed, that projected sum struggled to keep pace with construction cost inflation and related expenses, they said.
In the summer of 2017, the teenaged sleuths with the Hyde Square Task Force came upon a revelation during research for fund-raising — TD Garden had failed to live up to its obligation to the state to hold annual fund-raisers for local recreational centers. Lawmakers had approved that requirement as part of TD Garden’s conditions for its construction in the early 1990s.
Under pressure, TD Garden agreed to pay $1.65 million to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, with the understanding that the money would go to the Jackson Square project. The state also agreed to kick in $1 million, recognizing that it had failed to live up to its own responsibility to hold TD Garden accountable. That’s in addition to the $5.6 million that state officials had already set aside for the privately funded project.
Then, as the teenagers rallied outside City Hall and the State House, Mayor Martin J. Walsh committed another $2 million to the recreation center.
The teenagers had pushed for more, as well, using their own calculations to argue that TD Garden could have raised $13 million if it had met its fund-raising obligations.
In an interview Wednesday, Jones said the committed donations of $17 million are not enough. A reassessment of costs for the project put building costs alone at $30 million. A total accounting of the project could be closer to $50 million, she said. That’s not including the costs of operating the center, at levels the community can afford.
Jones said that Urban Edge board members assessed the challenges, as well as the organization’s core mission of developing housing, and decided to pull back from the recreational center.
There are no new development plans yet for the land, across from Jackson Square. Urban Edge has hired a new CEO, Emilio Dorcely, who will take over in September, and could look at ways to develop the property while incorporating some sort of programming for area youth.
“We have basically said we’re going to push pause on the development at the site right now,” Jones said.
She said the organization will also reach out to the original donors and agencies that have committed funds, to see if there are ways to repurpose the money for youth-oriented programming and activities in that neighborhood.
Celina Miranda, executive director of the Hyde Square Task Force, agreed that the decision was disappointing, but hoped that the teenagers’ efforts could still pay off for the community.
“The project itself is not going to happen, but let’s think of the intent — to benefit the neighborhood, and to benefit young people in the neighborhood,” she said. “All of the players should be thinking about that.”
Tricia McCorkle, a spokeswoman for TD Garden, agreed in an e-mail Wednesday night, saying, “We appreciate and support Urban Edge’s decision to reevaluate the needs of the community. We have every expectation that the funds we paid to the Department of Conservation and Recreation and earmarked for this project will continue to support recreational community resources for all.”
But, of course, Jones said, Urban Edge wouldn’t foreclose on the idea of the recreational center if an anonymous $50 million donation turned up in the mail.
Lorrie Pearson, 19, one of the original activists who is now studying at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the decision was disappointing, even if it’s also understandable. But she expressed hope that the state, or other donors, might still step in, so that Urban Edge could continue with the project.
At the least, she said, “We ended up getting a lot of supporters and a lot of community members together to bring awareness to the situation, which is something I’m grateful for.”