Skating Rink Owners Say Future Uncertain

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 6.59.21 PMBy Terry Rogers

On Tuesday, June 21, a blog post shared on Facebook had many people in Milford questioning potential changes regarding a long-standing business in town. According to the blog post, which was shared as “#skatingmatters,” Milford Skating Rink owners had been hearing rumors for three months that the rink may close at the end of the month.

“We have tried to get answers, well we can now confirm 6 months later, we may close due to the City of Milford’s appetite for change,” the post read. “I guess since they can’t attract new businesses for residents to work and live in the same city, they are trying to keep one business downtown at the expense of the Milford Skating Center.” The author of the post was not identified.

According to the post, Mayor Bryan Shupe and City Manager Eric Norenberg were part of a discussion with DMI Director, Lee Nelson, Randy Marvel, Dennis Silicato as well as the engineering firm of Davis, Bowen & Friedel. The post also said that Milford Skating Center owner, Carmen Kemper, who leases the building that houses the skating rink from Silicato Development, was not included in the discussion.

The post goes on to say that the lease for the skating rink was not renewed and would expire as of June 30. The post says that Davis, Bowen & Friedel wanted to expand their offices which are currently located on two sides of North Walnut Street.

Mr. Marvel says that his company owns property adjoining the skating rink. He says that both the Milford Skating Center and Davis, Bowen & Friedel have been good neighbors and are valuable business members of downtown Milford.

“We have not had any discussions about this issue with Dennis Silicato, Davis, Bowen & Friedel, The City of Milford, City Manager Eric Norenberg, Mayor Bryan Shupe, Downtown Milford Executive Director Lee Nelson or the Milford Music School,” Mr. Marvel said. The Delaware Music School was also noted in the post.

The City of Milford released a statement on Wednesday morning that the city did not intervene in landlord tenant disputes. The statement said that the City of Milford, including the Mayor, City Council, the City Manager and other staff do not get involved unless there are code violations or criminal activity and that neither of those concerns appeared to be present.“If in fact, the lease for the Milford Skating Center is not going to be renewed and the Skating Center needs to find a new home the City of Milford is willing and able to help find options and to identify what partnerships and assistance may be available. The Milford Skating Center has a long history in our community of providing family-friendly entertainment and recreation for all ages. Accordingly, we hope both parties find a positive resolution to this situation.”

According to Mike Wheedleton of Davis, Bowen & Friedel, the firm is looking at expanding. He said that the skating rink was one of the options presented but that no decisions have been made at this point.

Milford Skating Center opened in 1982 by Charles Wahleg, who also owned Delaware Skating Centers in Dover and Christiana. The skating rink was opened in the old W.T. Grant Building which had been vacant since the company filed bankruptcy in 1976. In 1987, Debbie LaVere purchased the business with Phil Smalley acting as General Manager from 1982 to 1992. Charles Gray, Ms. Kemper’s brother, acted as General Manager from 1992 to 1998. Ms. Kemper began working at the rink in 1984 and took over the General Manager position in 1998. The rink has been a family affair since Ms. Kemper took ownership, with her parents, Jim and Marie working at the snack bar and her brother helping her wherever he was needed.

In 2011, the rink closed temporarily for renovations. It reopened with a completely resurfaced skating floor and other updated amenities. Programs at the rink were increased, including teen dances, Zumba classes and adult dodge ball. The rink has been a supporter of many community events and has hosted fundraisers for many different organizations and individuals.

In an effort to gain more support for the rink, a signing event was held on Saturday, June 25. The rink asked residents to stop by and sign their wall of support. Many citizens posted support for the rink after the post regarding the possible closure was made public.

“DBF and the Skating Center are important to our community,” Kathy White Jackson posted. “But I have to agree there are many more options for DBF to move to. Skating is good for our kids and our community. Take a look around at all the empty buildings in Milford DBF, and chose one of them, please. When parents drop their kids off at the skating center, many of them go to local restaurants and spend money in our downtown area. The skating center provides a valuable service to our community. When we keep removing family oriented places for kids to go, we send them to the streets.”

The skating rink is also home to a roller derby team and Jenny Wyatt, a member of the team, posted that she was very sad to hear it may be closing as a “kid who grew up going to the skating rink and now an adult that counts on the rink as home to our Roller Derby.”

In addition to the signing event, petitions are being shared on Facebook and other social media asking those who want the rink to stay open to sign. In addition, Ms. Gray’s son posted a request to anyone who may know of a new location as well as funding sources to relocate the rink, should the lease not be renewed, to reach out as soon as possible.

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