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April 21. 2014 11:20PM

Plans for West Side arena in Manchester gaining support

MANCHESTER — City officials are working to finalize an agreement that would transfer operation of the West Side Ice Arena to a group of local businessmen.

The aldermen's Committee on Lands and Buildings on Monday had a mostly positive response to a legal agreement drafted by West Side Renaissance Park Inc., the entity established by the business partners to take over the arena with the goal of making improvements and boosting involvement in youth hockey.

The partners are brothers Philip and John Hebert, Manchester natives and hockey enthusiasts, and David A. Ross, a former attorney and consultant in Manchester. In the mid-1990s, Ross served 17 months in prison for raping a client when he was a young attorney in the city.

The state Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 1997 and ordered a new trial, after which Ross pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal. He had said he committed the act during a troubled time in his life.

The other members of the corporation are John Deachman, a prominent local attorney who is serving as its legal counsel, and Michael Durant.

The group is partnering with the Manchester Regional Youth Hockey Association (MRYHA), which is the main tenant of the West Side arena and the source of most of its revenue.

Under the proposed agreement, Renaissance would pay the city $25,000 a year for its 25-year term, with the amount increasing by the rate of inflation each year. The group would also share 5 percent of any revenue over $250,000.

The city would also provide a $1 million loan to the management company, presumably through a bond, which would fund improvements at the facility, including a new locker room. The agreement states that the managers would repay the loan, but does not specify terms. A company run by the Herbert brothers would be responsible for the renovations.According to the city's 2014 budget book, it cost $328,000 to operate the West Side arena, while the city took in $434,000 in revenue, mostly from the youth league, which paid the city $390,000 to use the facility.Several aldermen at Monday's meeting welcomed the proposal, while noting that the city's finance and legal departments still needed to work on the finer points.The most enthusiastic response came from Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil, who is not a member of the land committee but is chairman of the board of aldermen. "We have to look at the big picture on this thing.

We have a building that is under-performing," he said. "I applaud the fact the Herberts, MRYHA and Dave Ross have stepped up ... I would caution the committee not to get too caught up in this whole revenue thing. This about youth hockey."Deachman is also the attorney for O'Neil's construction consulting company, JMMO.The Department of Public Works, which is responsible for the facility, has been working with Renaissance on the proposals.Asked how prepared a newly formed company like Renaissance would be to take on a complex and aging facility, Herbert said: "We've maintained a great relationship with (public works). And they're going to walk us though the next phase... My brother John has extensive construction management experience."John Herbert owns a construction company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.In a brief interview after a previous aldermen's meeting, Hebert declined to provide information about his company.Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirshmann posed a series of questions about the agreement, and he urged a cautious approach.

"I want to see youth enjoy this but there is due diligence we have to do. We have to make sure the city is protected in every way. I think this is a complicated deal; this is a new entity, and there's no personal guarantee," he said. "I'm sure you three guys are wonderful, but this is the city of Manchester."

The committee appeared willing to approve the agreement, with stipulations that city officials iron out the details before the next meeting of the full board, but Hirshmann proposed another committee meeting be scheduled the same day as the board meeting next week. The committee voted to table the proposal until that meeting.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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