An $8 million plan to upgrade the Brighton ice arena took a key step forward with the Town of Tonawanda agreeing to spend $400,000 on a design and engineering study.
The Town Board rejected a similar study last April by a 3-2 vote. But members voted 4-1 at Monday night's board meeting to pin down exactly what to do and how much it will cost. Deputy Supervisor John Bargnesi Jr. cast the lone no vote.
The proposal has generated intense support and opposition in the town over the past 18 months.
Proponents say the town's rinks at Brighton and Lincoln parks are 60 years old and too small to host hockey tournaments. They also only operate five months out of the year, while an upgraded arena could be open year-round.
Critics say road and sewer repairs are higher priorities and they don't want to see the Brighton pool and wading pool closed to make way for an expanded arena. However, Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said renovations could include a splash pad at Brighton to replace the lost pools.
The town is borrowing the money to pay for the study. The next step is to request proposals from consulting firms before hiring one to perform the analysis, Emminger said.
"It's got to make financial sense," he said.
A consultant will study renovating the existing Brighton arena, building a new facility in its place and what to do with the Lincoln Park rink. The parameters of the study rejected last year did not include the option of renovating the current Brighton rink, Emminger said.
The project is subject to Town Board vote or, potentially, a public referendum that would take place this fall – an option preferred by the supervisor.
But Emminger said the town can't proceed with a public vote until it has specific financial information to share. Further, he said, the project must serve more than just the youth ice hockey community for it to be successful.
Work wouldn't begin until 2020 at the earliest.
The town, if it moves forward with the ice arena project, will do so on its own.
Town and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District officials had discussed working together on the project, in hopes state funding could pay for a good portion of it. But State Education Department officials late last year said the work wasn't eligible for that aid.