BRISTOL BOROUGH >> Bristol Borough Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe announced a major deal on Monday to sell the Grundy Arena on Beaver Street to a Maryland-based company for $4 million.
“After extensive negotiations and lots of back and forth, we put together a deal that I know is the best deal for the taxpayers of this town and for this council,” said DiGuiseppe.
The rink has been a source of financial strain for the borough for years, costing it thousands in upkeep and maintenance and strapping the town with longterm debt.
“This building has been a white elephant for the taxpayers of this town for a long time,” said DiGuiseppe. “By selling this rink, we’ll be able to give everyone a reduction in taxes. And our debt service will drop from 8.5 mills to three-tenths of a mill.”
Under the agreement, the authority, which oversees the arena, has agreed to sell the arena to the Black Bear Sports Group, a privately-owned company that owns and operates 16 indoor ice rinks in six states, including Bucks County Ice in Warminster and Ice Land in Hamilton Township, N.J.
Based in Bethesda, Md., Black Bear was founded in 2015 and is led by CEO, Murry Gunty. Gunty is a lifelong hockey fan who founded Black Bear based on combining his turnaround experience in a broad array of industries with his passion for the game of hockey.
According to its website, Black Bear's goal is to save older rinks by investing capital to bring their facilities up to modern standards and provide great programming for its hockey and figure skating communities.
At one point during the negotiations, it appeared the sale might not happen over a disagreement on the sale price, said DiGiuseppi, who helped broker the deal behind the scenes between Black Bear and the authority.
“They said the building’s not worth $4 million,” said DiGiuseppi. “We went back and forth over the valuation of the business and the equipment inside and that’s how we got to the $4 million valuation,” he said.
“I think that $4 million dollars is a number that this council is very fortunate to have,” added DiGuiseppe. “A lot of time and effort went into this agreement.”
According to DiGuiseppe, the agreement has no contingencies, no financing and no due diligence period.
“They are willing to close by the end of August. All the employees will be retained by Black Bear,” said DiGuiseppe. “And they are accepting the property as is, which we know at the moment needs more than $100,000 in two items that need to be repaired - a chiller tower at a cost of about $70,000 and a compressor at a cost of $35,000.”
After the sale price was negotiated, DiGuiseppe said the Grundy Foundation had to agree to lift a deed restriction that limits the use of the building to public recreation.
At a special meeting of the foundation’s board last week, members voted unanimously to lift the restriction clearing the way for a vote on the sale.
On Monday, just prior to the borough council meeting, DiGuiseppe informed council that the authority’s board had met and voted to sell the rink.
The disclosure brought a round of applause from borough council members who were hearing about the deal for the first time.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am right now about this,” said Councilwoman Lorraine Cullen. “This has been a burden for the town for so long. This is so unbelievable. Thank you. Thank you.”
“This is a great thing that’s happened to the borough,” added Council Vice President Betty Rodriguez. “For 17 years I have heard people complain about what a burden the skating rink has been to the taxpayers. This is definitely great news.”
“The other nice part about this is that here’s a company from out of town that’s in the skating business and they see the value of this rink,” added south ward Councilman Lou Quattrocchi. “Even though it’s been a millstone around our necks, I think this is going to turn out to be a real good investment for them, too. They see the value in this rink and our town. It’s going to be good for the town.”
In a procedural vote, Council unanimously and enthusiastically voted to recommend the sale to the Authority.
Following the vote, DiGuiseppe placed a phone call from council chambers to the Black Bear CEO. “Murry, I just wanted to let you know you just bought an ice rink in Bristol Borough,” DiGuiseppe said in a voicemail message, as more applause filled council chambers.
So what does the sale mean for borough taxpayers?
The sale, he said, will allow the borough to pay off the rink’s outstanding $3.7 million debt and reduce the borough’s debt service by 8.5 mills.
“What that will do is give everyone in 2021 a tax savings of 15 percent, which means in 2021 every borough taxpayer will see their tax bill reduced by 15 percent,” said DiGuiseppe.
The council president noted that the savings in debt service taxes cannot be applied to the borough’s general fund. It can only be used to lower the debt service tax.
In addition, for the first time in almost 40 years, the building will be returned to the tax rolls with the school district, the borough and the county benefiting from accessed taxes.
From the sale itself, DiGuiseppe said an extra $250,000 will be coming into the auxiliary’s coffer for the borough to use.
DiGuiseppe recommended taking $100,000 of that money and reinvesting it into recreation, including a facelift for the basketball courts, redoing baseball fields that needed to be done this year and rehabilitating the Spurline pedestrian path through town.
“I’d also like to meet with the school board and maybe we can create something together with recreation,” said DiGuiseppe.
The Council President said he’d also use part of the money to rip down boarded up houses on Elm Street. “Elm Street has to come down,” he said of the borough redevelopment project.