Confessions of a rink rat

This was published today in the Dayton Daily News, responding to an earlier article where Kettering Council is deciding the fate of the Kettering Ice Arena. They’ve hired a consultant, to help decide whether to invest more money in the rink- or possibly change it’s use and eliminate the ice.

After school and Friday nights, Sunday afternoons, I spent on skates going round and round the ice rink.

There were pretty girls in figure skates twirling around in the center, and the hockey jocks showing off their wheels before the guards cautioned them to slow down. We all disliked Frank, the rink manager, who insisted on playing waltzes during public sessions off the big reel-to-reel tapes, complete with announcements of reverse skate, couples skate, and ladies choice.

It was at the rink that I made many of the longest lasting friendships. Some of them surviving 40-plus years and hundreds of miles. I watch on Facebook as little Wendy Grace had her own sons playing hockey at the very same rink. Thurmond, who was a rink guard and the driver of the green AMC Hornet that we had so many adventures in, had his son live with me for a while as a UD sophomore.

And then there was hockey, the sport that I’m still playing at 52 in an over-30 league called “Huff-n-Puff” at the Kettering Rec Center. It’s no checking, but not without contact. We’ve got Charlie who flies all over the world for his work with UD, still playing at close to 70. His wife comes to watch every game in his raggedy Toyota with the NY Rangers bumper stickers. For a long time Bob P. was playing. He stopped at 73 to focus more on riding his bicycle. Some of the guys who were in their forties had called him coach when they were 15. There’s Bob M., who’s the skipper of the Dayton Dragons — we’ve let his kid play with us, despite Mike being way too fast for any of us to catch and being well under the age limit — starting at about 16 — so father and son could play together. This year a full-bird Colonel joined us — with her pony-tail, M.D., and a license to fly an A-10- but don’t call her ma’am on the ice.

If you realize that guys drive in to play at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights from as far away as Springfield, Troy, Springboro — and most of these guys have been playing in the league for years — you understand what a special place the Kettering Ice Arena is.

Now we hear that there is discussion about its future. The options: to repurpose the space for something else, to reinvest in the current rink, and even possibly double down by adding a second rink with seating enough to hold minor league hockey games.

A “consultant” has been hired to provide the options so the powers that be can decide the fate of this community amenity.

Arguments that less than 15 percent of Kettering’s residents use the rink ring hollow to me. The same could be said about libraries, public schools, swimming pools, skateboard parks, BMX tracks, soccer fields and the Fraze Pavilion, give or take a few percentage points. The fact that Kettering makes an effort to provide such a wide variety of things to bring people together is what makes it what I consider the best run, most forward thinking community in the county. I’ve often said if Kettering was in the center and the largest community in the county, regionalism would have happened long ago.

As to the rink losing money and being poorly run, what price do you put on keeping kids off the streets in a safe and healthy environment? And, even though I didn’t like the way old Frank ran my rink growing up — there was a lot to be said for reverse skate, and couples skates — he knew more than I gave him credit, even if his taste in music sucked.

That KRC is the only publicly owned rink in Montgomery County makes Kettering a place people want live in and to visit. Wonder what happens when a city loses that ability — look at Dayton where I live.

More than likely the consultant will come back with either shut it down, or double down. For Kettering’s sake, and for the sake of a bunch of old Huffing-and-Puffing hockey players, and for kids who may one day become Olympians — I hope that Kettering realizes what a gem they have.

David Esrati is a middle aged rink rat and mediocre hockey player.
Source: Confessions of a rink rat |

Note- there is another publicly owned rink in Montgomery County- the bastard Riverscape rink, that’s 3/4 size and useless for anything but curling, broomball and a very few public session skaters. That they didn’t build a full-size rink (after already upgrading from a half-size) was stupid. They don’t make 3/4 size Zamboni’s either.

I’ve gotten quite a few notes from people on this piece. The reality is, when the consultant comes back to advise Kettering, we’re going to have to look closely at the recommendations, and then mobilize forces if the answer isn’t to keep it.

There is only one person in the area that would benefit from closing it down- and that would be Randy Gunlock of Austin Landing fame. He has wanted to build a rink in the complex- and bring a minor league team to the region- but, he’s competing with KRC and South Metro Ice rink- right near his location. South Metro doesn’t hold a candle to KRC- and if KRC shut down, there would be a whole bunch of people looking for ice time somewhere in the area.

Hara Arena would also lose if KRC built a second sheet with 1000+ seats- as the Dayton Demonz would probably move. No one should think the Federal Hockey League is a very good investment, but, if the Demonz leave Hara, there wouldn’t be much left to justify keeping the ice going there. It’s really hard for private rinks to compete with publicly funded ones.

There had been plans to build an ice rink on the original Wright State master plan, but it never happened. The Bombers had to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get the ice into the Nutter Center- something that could have been taken care of for a lot less, had the original man behind the Nutter Center, Tom Oddy, listened to a freshman who visited his office on his second day on campus. I made a pitch to put ice in, or at least set it up for ice- for the future. Oddy said he’d just bring in portable ice- and that took the retrofit price from a few hundred thousand to a few million.

The best location for a new rink for Dayton would be at the Fairgrounds- or on UD land along Stewart. With a ton of college kids from the East Coast who already know how to skate- we could see more family friendly reasons to come eat on Brown St and then take in a game or go skating. Throw in a small Cineplex and Dayton might start to see a nexus of accessible family fun. Toss in an indoor skatepark and bike track, and lookout.

There is one other thing to consider- Dayton spent $23 million to build the stadium for the Dragons in the name of “Economic Development”- and very few Dayton kids have every played a game on that field of dreams. Ice rinks aren’t like that. When the pro’s aren’t playing, anyone else can go skate on the very same ice. If Kettering understood how many people came to Kettering- and got a positive feeling about their community just because of that facility- it’s all money well spent.

Basketball under the lights

I end up on a lot of courts after the sun goes down. While the sun is up- I can knock on doors and talk to voters, but once it’s dark- it’s time to hang or repair nets.

Last night, was mostly repairing, but I had a few interesting experiences. There is a little park in the McCook field neighborhood- just up Webster Street from the Kroc center. It has a single hoops court- with a hard volleyball court that probably hasn’t had a net up for years. Four guys were sitting in their cars on the volleyball court- talking. Once they figured out I was the green net and stencil guy- they were really glad to see me. They grew up in that ’hood, and this was still their “home court.” They were telling me if there were lights on, they’d still be hooping it up.

Next stop was Parkside homes courts, there are three- a double and a single. The tree limbs were still sitting on the side of the single, and there was evidence that the courts had been getting some play. As I was fixing one of the nets- my visions of sportsplex on the site were coming back- and I realized, this could be the ultimate hoops destination all summer long. If we built 20 courts, and could have that many games going at once, with lights on- and stands, and food trucks, we could bring some people down the same way that the baseball fields used to- the ones that sit dark most nights too, thanks to endless road construction, budget cuts and a general lack of interest by the city in using these resources anymore. For some reason, the idea of recreation as economic development has been lost in this city.

Photo of Dave Moore from Superfly barber shop with the burkham park backboards

Dave Moore of Superfly Barber shop wants to know why our backboards aren’t cutting it?

After hanging and fixing more nets- at dark courts where I knew we’d have had games going if the lights were on- at Broadway and Superior and Riverview- I went by Burkham park- home of the sorriest two courts in the city- where maybe one of the backboards is at regulation height- and it’s only a partial backboard, the opposite rim looks more like a roller coaster- and is probably at 8 feet, and the other court, which only has 1 rim is at 8 foot as well- it was bright as day- the lights were on. Go figure.

We’ve got kids playing on rollouts all over the city- on the street, depending on street lights- so you know there is a need. It’s time Dayton, let’s flip that switch and bring nighttime basketball back. It’s better our kids are shooting baskets instead of each other.

Randy Gunlock just discovers Esrati’s Sportsplex proposal

The headline is me being sarcastic. I’ve pushed the idea of a central massive sports/rec plex on the former public housing site between 1-75, the river, Helena and Keowee for years. I suggested instead of 6 new Dayton rec centers- we just build one amazing centralized one- instead, we ended with 2 semi-lame ones.

The plan got a small boost when the Kroc Center went in just due East of the location- taking care of the basketball component- but, my original concept also called for a true Olympic pool, ice rink, even speed skating track and velodromes- things not necessarily the norm. A put-Dayton-on-the-map sort of facility. It was to be integrated with a Dayton Public Schools central tutoring lab, media center to give kids places to go after school other than Third and Main- but, instead, we have an empty field.

Now, we hear Mr. Gunlock has a plan for a “$35 million regional youth sports complex” partially funded with tax dollars- and probably on his property. Nothing like propping up your property values with tax-supported amenities, huh Mr. G?

From the Dayton Daily news today:

Developer Randy Gunlock called for a regional campaign to raise as much as $35 million in private funds for a year-round regional youth sports complex.

Gunlock said he would be a major funder of the proposed youth sports complex, but that others would be needed to pull it off. “I’m continuously talking about this. I think it’s important. Whether there’s going to be enough support in the community, I don’t know,” he said in a phone interview Thursday night.

Gunlock’s family company, RG Properties, is the developer of Austin Landing, the $150-million, 142-acre development near the Montgomery-Warren County line. RG Properties has developed more than 10 million square feet of commercial real estate in four states.

Gunlock said development of such a facility is essential to keeping families in the Miami Valley and drawing families to regional or national events in the Dayton-Cincinnati area.

He declined to comment on how much he would donate to the project or where it should be located, other than to say the complex should be built somewhere along the corridor between Cincinnati and Dayton. “The reality is … these communities are growing together. Have been 50 years. Will continue to,” he said.

Already, youth and amateur sports tourism are credited with bringing more than $100 million a year to the area — just a fraction of $5 billion to $7 billion in national revenues traced to yearly business activities springing from youth and amateur sports tourism.

Although a youth hockey supporter, Gunlock said the facility should offer facilities for soccer and lacrosse. He noted plans in West Carrollton and Miami Twp. involving youth sports facilities.

Plans for youth sports complexes, so far focused on outdoor facilities, already are unfolding 11 miles apart in Warren and Butler counties, both so far to be funded by taxpayer dollars.

via $35M campaign for youth sports complex launched.

The magic tonic of “sport tourism” which starts the economic development types salivating is yet another distraction from solving real problems in our community- like the ones Gunlock has already caused by constructing new office space in a community that’s already overbuilt. Adding in his special income tax free zone for the rich only, he’s sucked the last bits of life out of downtown while draining the county coffers of development dollars building his private interchange at Austin Road.

We’ve already seen one attempt to illegally jack up the hotel tax to build an ice arena for Sir Gunlock that nobody had discussed or justified. Now, we’re seeing a second attempt.

We’re also hearing rumblings out of West Carrollton to build a soccer complex and arena for the Dayton Dutch Lions. Why is is impossible to have a true regional plan? Could it be that our County Commission is totally ineffective in coordinating the many fiefdoms of the region we call Dayton?

Our one true regional success has been Metroparks- wouldn’t it make sense to look at having them coordinate regional sports related recreation facilities? If they need experts on how to build effective recreational facilities and run programs- they should talk to the City of Kettering which by far is the leader in creating parks and programming for all residents from their BMX track and Skateboard park to soccer fields, and Rec Center complete with ice rink. No other community comes close in the region at providing real community amenities- and I left out the Rosewood arts center, Trent Arena and the Fraze Pavillion.

Mr. Gunlock may be able to pledge some money to a project- but, let’s make sure it’s our project not his- we’ve already gone broke building his fields into dreams, and they’ve cost us dearly.

Quality of life is economic development. Let’s organize it better.

The Dayton Daily News has turned over a new leaf- and has gone on a waste-busting spree. First up wasn’t the clown corps  in charge of tax giveaways- the “economic development” people- which we have in abundance. Nope- it’s the people in charge of providing public amenities.

First was yesterday’s “news” that most municipalities lose money on public golf courses. Well, they also lose money on parks and playgrounds- as you could look at the “opportunity costs” involved vs. having housing or businesses on parkland- plus the cost of upkeep. However, golf isn’t the most practical of things to subsidize. The number of golfers in our population is relatively low because we’re not a retirement community- and golf is a game for those with plenty of time on their hands and usually some money, too. Also- it takes up an awful lot of space for relatively few players. Compare a soccer complex with a measly 10 full-size fields, 2 kids-sized, throw in some volleyball, a BMX track, a half dozen baseball diamonds- and even a pond, picnic shelters and parking, wait- did I just describe Delco Park- and you have less space, with higher use than 3 tees at a golf course.

Also, public golf courses compete directly with private golf courses- who have to pay taxes on all that land- not a fair equation.

You did notice one thing though- Dayton was one of the few communities to break even on golf, imagine that.

Rob Drydek Skate Park in KetteringNext up in the DDN hit list is the new Kettering water park- and mention of the closed Splash Moraine. Kettering understands better than most communities that good parks and recs are good for building a good community. They also have good schools and have managed to have a modicum of diversity as opposed to our outer-ring communities. Besides the aforementioned Delco Park- they also have a world famous signature skateboard park, courtesy of native son Rob Drydek and DC Shoes, and an ice arena- the only public hockey-sized skating rink in Montgomery County (where you will find me playing Huff-n-Puff hockey each winter). We could also add that Kettering has an amazing complex at the High School- and James Trent Arena- open to residents, an arts program at Rosewood and the Fraze pavilion which hosts concerts- including free ones- all summer long.

Compare that to Dayton- which has no skate park, no dog park, no BMX track, no soccer facility, closed its arts center, handed over Island Park band shell to Metroparks, closed pools, and a useless sized ice rink under the stewardship of Metroparks at Riverscape.

Kettering gets quality of life as a measure of success and understands that healthy cities have healthy residents. Dayton on the other hand would rather engage in crony-capitalism and try to artificially prop up home values by subsidizing both for-profit and non-profit builders in adding new homes (See the Charles Simms homes or the ones being built by East End Community Services or the St. Mary’s Development refurbishment of Marvin Gardens) while we have an abundance of housing stock that we are simultaneously spending huge money to tear down- or “deconstruct.”

Read the title of the person in charge of the new Kettering water park in this DDN quote:

“There is a huge demand for quality recreational experiences in Kettering and a huge demand for water in Kettering,” said Bill Tschirhart, the Kettering parks’ business services manager. “We gave them exactly what they wanted.”

via Kettering’s new waterpark fills void, draws crowds.

The “Kettering parks’ business services manager”- that they understand that parks and recs is a business- and a service to the community is how advanced Kettering gets it.

We do have a regional entity that gets quality of life as economic development- it’s called Five Rivers Metroparks- and if greater Dayton were smart- we’d move all parks and recs programs under its authority, provide Metropasses to Montgomery County residents based on the contributions of their communities’ current investment in recs programs and on average income of the community. Cities would pay into the program based on census numbers- with fixed contributions per person and we’d start seeing a true quality of life infrastructure system that is balanced and well run.

Kettering deserves kudos and study by every other community in the region for its mastery of this part of government. The rest of the region needs to start understanding that we will only begin to advance as a community once we start working together.

B-cycle and sustainablity. Bike share in Dayton, build on strengths

So much focus has been on what we don’t have in Dayton- yet, we take for granted what we have all the time. I just got back from a five mile run on the bikeway, going past Garden Station, Deeds Point, Kettering Fields, the Canoe Club,  Island Park and Riverscape. It was a beautiful day for a run. It was a good day for day-dreaming of what we could have.

If you’ve read my posts about Sportsplex, you know I envision a huge rec-center, outdoor sports HQ extending over from Kettering Fields on the land formerly occupied by Parkside homes. But, that’s a tens-of-millions proposition. For now, we should at least considering converting the land to soccer/football fields as a way to bring more people down to this beautiful area. Think Delco Park in Kettering as a model. With people come opportunities for selling food, sporting goods, daycare etc.

However, the problem still, and always will be the same- with every additional person coming down to the area, comes a car. Cars require gas, cars require parking spaces. Parking lots are expensive. They are the reason that skyscrapers aren’t being built in Dayton anymore- with each cubicle comes the requirement of a parking space. Think about it.

This is why we would see instant transformation, especially of “summer spaces” like Kettering Fields, if we had a fleet of easy access bicycles available for shuttling people from parking to playing fields- and from playing fields to fast food (up Keowee, downtown). By building on the strengths of our bike paths already in place, and adding bicycles- we’ve changed everything.

B-Cycle is a relatively inexpensive addition to our community. For less than the naming rights of the Dragons’ field, or a few high school football fields. A major player like Premier Health Partners, Kettering Health Network, DP&L or the like, could transform the city – and give themselves an amazing advertising vehicle (pun intended) to spread their message about the kind of community we have- and the kind we want to have.

I made a presentation at the LexisNexis World Usability Day event on Thursday. The theme was sustainability. When you consider how much pollution a car spews in just a short 4-mile trip (which is what a majority of our trips end up being) or that the car is the second highest expense in most households, adding bicycles everywhere could make a huge impact.

I’m on a whirlwind mission to get this launched, at least in demonstration mode with a limited installation, by next July. If you are interested in helping make this happen, please let me know.