Peconic Hockey president and founder Troy Albert, right, with board member Chris Keber and the group's attorney, Stephen Kiely at the June 15 town board work session. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town will begin negotiations with Peconic Hockey to site an NHL-sized ice rink at Stotzky Park.

Town board members agreed to have the town attorney begin negotiating with Peconic Hockey, with the goal of entering into a public-private partnership that will allow the eventual construction of a covered NHL-sized ice rink in the park.

The domed rink would be located on the south soccer field in Stotzky Park, which Riverhead Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ray Coyne said is basically unused.

The town had been talking with Peconic Hockey to build a rink at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton, but, Coyne said, “there are too many obstacles there,” in terms of permits and regulations.

Initially, the Stotzky rink would be located inside a “bubble dome,” but Peconic Hockey wants to eventually build a permanent multi-rink structure in the park, the town’s main park facility, located along Pulaski Street in Riverhead.

Peconic Hockey has already purchased the ice rink “sheet,” dome and mechanical equipment from the Town of Cranston, Rhode Island, said the organization’s founder and board president Troy Albert. Since it will cost about $200,000 to move everything, the organization’s directors want to relocate the materials only once, and asked the town board’s permission to store everything on town property.

Peconic Hockey is an all-volunteer, tax-exempt nonprofit corporation. It has been organizing hockey teams across the East End and seeding hockey programs in school districts in the region. But an East End rink is absolutely essential since ice time at rinks in western Suffolk and Nassau is scarce.

The nonprofit group needs to avoid the cost of a second move, said board member Chris Keber, who attended the work session with Albert and the organization’s attorney, Stephen Kiely. So Peconic Hockey needs a place “to store the gear,” Keber said.

Riverhead officials expressed concern about agreeing to store it without a long-term land lease and management agreement.

Councilman Ken Rothwell, who said he played ice hockey his entire life, said he knows he knows an indoor rink is sorely needed on the East End. Teams travel to Kings Park and further for ice time at all hours of the night and early morning. He recalled as a youth playing hockey at 6 a.m. on school days.

Councilman Tim Hubbard agreed. He recalled playing ice hockey as a teenager at 1 a.m. “up west” because no other ice time was available. As a police officer who ran the Riverhad PAL program for 30 years, he said, he knows there would be a lot of local demand for the rink.

“How quickly can we hammer out a contract and just get it done?” Rothwell asked. He said he is concerned about Riverhead being “a holding center” and the rink would end up elsewhere. “I would advocate I want it here,” he said.

Keber said he and Albert are Riverhead residents and want to site the rink here.

“Riverhead’s perfect. It checks all the boxes,” he said, with the terminus of the Long Island Expressway and “the confluence of the two forks” and all of the infrastructure including hotels, to support tournaments and leagues.

The town board asked Deputy Town Attorney Ann Marie Prudenti to negotiate the terms of a license agreement and/or land-lease with Kiely.

“Our ambition is to have kids skating this fall,” Albert said. “We’re ready to move forward.”

Anticipating the single rink to be much in demand, Peconic Hockey would look to build a permanent structure with multiple rinks, Albert said. That would be “really important” to the town, he said. It would allow for “multiple tournaments, multiple camps,” which are “real money-makers for the town” in terms of guests at local hotels and restaurants.

The domed rink “would be a stepping stone,” Kiely said.

Prudenti said the arrangement is not that simple. The site, because it’s parkland, is “impressed with a public trust,” Prudenti said. As such, it must meet certain legal standards.

A private partnership agreement must be executed “right away” before the town can take the next step, Prudenti said. The agreement “must deliver to our residents a benefit that they don’t already have,” Prudenti said. “And it must be structured in such a way that — whether it’s a no-fee use or a recreation program, we really need that right away,” she said. “This has been planned for a couple of years,” she said. “There’s no reason why that shouldn’t be done immediately,” Prudenti said.

“I’ll work with the town attorney’s office to negotiate an agreement,” Kiely said.

“This is an exciting thing,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said, adding, “I will be out there on skates.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.