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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

FITCHBURG - Fearing the closure of the Landry Arena adjacent to the Wallace Civic Center, representatives of several area hockey and skating organizations met Tuesday night to formulate plans to keep the popular ice rink open.

Funded by Fitchburg resident George Wallace and opened together in 1970, the Wallace Civic Center and Landry Arena have been operated by Fitchburg State University since 2007.

And while the larger Civic Center - home to the Boston Bruins training camp from 1972-77 - has undergone major renovations, the smaller Landry Arena has gone mostly untouched.

"We know that the Landry Arena is in need of high-end repair, and we want to work with the university," said Eric Short, the Lunenburg High hockey coach and Twin Cities Youth Hockey mite director, who chaired Tuesday's meeting. "The point of this group is to come up with some solutions."

The Civic Center and Landry Arena are used by several area high school teams - St. Bernard's, North Middlesex, Leominster, Fitchburg, Nashoba and Lunenburg to name a few - while the Landry Arena is also home to youth leagues, men's leagues and skating clubs.

"The loss of the Landry Arena would be very devastating for our program," said Ken Howlett, director of Twin Cities Youth Hockey. "We've nearly doubled our numbers in the last two years from 184 to 345, and that's ice hockey players from ages 4 to 14."

Howlett said his organization depends on the Landry Area to keep hockey available and affordable.

"If we lost it, I don't know if we would find sufficient rink time in other towns to handle our programs," he said.

In a letter addressed to Landry patrons on Dec. 2, 2013, Fitchburg State University president Robert Antonucci wrote, "the university is currently undertaking a feasibility study regarding the future of Landry Arena. Among the topics we are considering are the level of utilization, the condition of the structure and its machinery, the shortage of space at our recreation center, and the overall cost of operating two skating facilities."

Antonucci added that "we will meet with those of you who make regular use of the arena to discuss our findings and chart a course for the future."

Mike Nelson, owner of Team Sports, across from the Civic Center and Landry Arena on John Fitch Highway, said the loss of one of the rinks would be devastating to the local hockey community.

"From a business standpoint and from my own hockey interests because I play in two men's leagues, I know the need for two rinks," he said.

Nelson noted that the Bud Light Old Timers Tournament alone attracts about 60 teams - that's 750 hockey players and their families - to the city every year.

"It's a huge economic influence in Fitchburg and surrounding communities," he said. "We absolutely need two rinks."

Also in attendance at Tuesday's meeting was Fitchburg Ward 5 City Councilor Angelo Bisol, who insisted that the future of the Landry Arena has not been decided.

"We want to make sure that as a city we are listening to the concerns of the Landry patrons," he said. "The city is just basically waiting for the study to be done, so we can take a look at it."

Short said steps discussed by the group in an effort to keep the Landry Arena open include emails from hockey and skating organizations to Antonucci, the Fitchburg State Board of Trustees, and elected officials, as well as paper petitions, lawn signs, flyers and use of social media.

Contact Jay Gearan



January 29, 2014




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