The months-long case of “Roller Rink v. Bakery” may finally have reached a resolution Wednesday night.
After representatives of a bakery and a proposed roller rink passionately argued their positions, the Board of Aldermen Community Development Committee unanimously voted in favor of selling a contested property at 108 Food Terminal Plaza to the owners of Something Sweet, Inc.
Although the bakery owners originally won the purchase bid in February, New Haven resident Isee Greenwood has repeatedly pushed for the lot to be converted to a roller rink in order to provide a safe alternative activity for city youth. Committee members said they chose to approve the bakery’s purchase because of the economic benefits it will provide for the city, but they said they also support Greenwood’s goals.
Although 15 enthusiastic supporters of Greenwood’s proposal attended the hearing, the committee could only vote to accept or reject the proposal submitted by Something Sweet, Inc. and could not select another buyer, since the New Haven City Plan Commission had already approved the purchase, Committee Chair and Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said at the start of the meeting.
In their presentations, the supporters of Something Sweet and Angel Isee’s Funland both argued they would be the best addition to the Long Wharf area, but for different reasons.
Bakery owners Joe and Marian Montesano and New Haven Deputy Economic Development Administrator Christine Bonanno said the bakery would fit best in the industrial neighborhood and would be an important employer. According to their proposal to the city, the bakery plans to expand its 42-member staff by 25 people.
“We’re hopeful that Long Wharf is revitalized, [but that’s] not where we are today,” Joe Montesano said before the committee. “It will provide jobs to people who live in our city.”
He said the bakery — whose warehouse is located in the adjacent lot — has been a mainstay in the city and can afford the extensive repairs and cleanup that are needed.
He said he estimates the building, which was damaged in a 1990 fire, will require $280,000 in work over three months before it can be put to use. According to city documents, the Montesanos’ bid for the site was $100,000.
Joe Montesano told the committee that Something Sweet has been eyeing the property for years, and the bakery’s situation is “urgent.” He said the bakery is currently operating at 40 percent capacity and has temporarily stopped production because of insufficient storage. Expansion to the neighboring property would allow the bakery to reach its full potential, he said.
But Greenwood and the advocates for Angel Isee’s Funland said their proposal addresses even more critical needs in New Haven. Greenwood, a teaching assistant in a New Haven public school, began her presentation by citing New Haven crime and violence statistics and offering personal testimony to the prevalence of violence by citing the story of a young student of hers who was shot in the eye.
She said her proposed roller rink would be a much needed resource for the youth of New Haven.
“They need something, some recreation,” Greenwood said after the hearing.
She and her supporters said the city is not doing enough to address youth crime. The rink’s advocates said the location of the lot is uniquely ideal because it is located in a neutral area of New Haven, where there are not rival groups of teenagers competing to establish their territory.
In addition to arguing that the bakery would contribute to child obesity, one supporter said the roller rink would serve as a clear signal to youth that people in the city care about them.
“None of the shootings have been solved,” he said. “We’re sending a message to children that we don’t care what’s going on.”
But after questioning Greenwood about her financial backing, members of the committee said they could not turn down an established buyer for such a financially risky enterprise without a clear fundraising plan. The committee then unanimously voted to recommend to the full Board of Aldermen that it approve Something Sweet’s purchase.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsy” Clark, the chair of the Aldermanic Youth Services Committee, said she understands the “disturbing issues” brought up by the advocates of the rink and said there might be more affordable alternatives elsewhere in the city.
“One of the dangers about this going to the bakery is that your passion might diffuse,” Clark said. “I encourage and plead with Isee to keep the faith and keep this group going.”
Mattison said he also applauds the “incredible force, vision and energy” of Greenwood and said her efforts are a step forward for the city.
Greenwood said she plans to continue her work towards establishing a roller rink.
The purchase needs to be approved by the full Board of Aldermen before becoming official.