Cliff Rucker, owner of the Worcester Railers ECHL hockey team, who also plans to purchase property and open a sports bar across the street from the Railers’ DCU Center home, said this week he will partner with Marathon Sports Group and Worcester Business Development Corp. to build a multipurpose ice rink facility at the former PresMet Corp. site in the Canal District.
“We are a 50 percent owner of the rinks at this point,” Rucker told the Sun Monday, April 11.
A WBDC management source with knowledge of the deal confirmed Rucker’s involvement this week. President & CEO Craig Blais did not respond to repeated attempts for comment Monday and Tuesday.
“Assuming that we get the approvals, we’re building a rink,” Rucker said.
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Plans for the long dormant parcel at the corner of Harding and Winter streets include two ice skating rinks, 40,000 square feet of retail space, a training center, pro shop and restaurant.
The land is owned by WBDC subsidiary New Garden Park and will be leased to Marathon Sports Group principals Harry Angevine and Scott Rouisse and Rucker, who are the managing partners of Worcester Sports Center, LLC with headquarters at 112 Harding St.
Angevine, Marathon president, told the Telegram & Gazette in November the 100,000-square-foot facility, dubbed New Garden Rink on the Marathon Sports website, would cost between $12 million and $15 million to build.
Rucker would not say how much he is investing in the project. Angevine and Rouisse did not return multiple attempts for comment. Rucker did say, though, that he felt compelled to act.
“When I found out there was a possibility that the rinks weren’t going to be built, we had to make a decision: get involved and try to make it happen, or essentially run the team without that piece of the puzzle,” Rucker said.
That piece of the puzzle was not only an alternate sheet of ice for Railers practice and training, but a hub for developing the hockey fans and players of tomorrow.
“We made a decision that it was really critical to our overall vision of access to hockey,” Rucker said in a phone interview Friday, April 8. “Hockey is an expensive sport, and if you’ve got no capacity to donate ice or access ice it’s going to limit accessibility. We felt it was really important to have that and we made a decision to get involved.”
Rucker said when he first visited Worcester he heard of the rink plan for the Canal District and excitedly reached out to Marathon Sports Group and the WBDC. He said he learned quickly that the prospects of an arena were hanging in the balance.
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The founder and president of NFS Leasing, among a string of other successful business ventures, Rucker’s involvement secured Worcester an expansion ECHL minor-league hockey team set to debut in October 2017.
Angevine told the T&G in November that the plan was to finish construction on the rink facility by August 2017, the same target date for the opening of Rucker’s planned restaurant and pub [another Sun exclusive] at the former Bar FX at 90 Commercial St.
Rucker and team and city officials announced the Worcester Railers name and logo at a fan festival April 3 at the DCU Center. The Railers will be the 29th team of the ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League).
“The youth hockey programs in the city and access for all kids who want to play hockey in the city, whether they’re youth hockey programs or public school programs, all of that is part of my vision for the Railers being a real part of the community,” Rucker said.
Edward Russo, a member of the Canal District Alliance Board of Directors, told the Sun in November, “I am in 100 percent support of the skating rink. I think it’s one of the best things to happen to the Canal District in years.
“Anytime you bring people in the area, the retail and entertainment is going to flow,” Russo said. “Folks have done a great job building this area up to what it is today. I think it’s time to bring more people down here and I think the skating rink is a great place to start.”
Edward Murphy, president of WeRENTcentralmass.com in Kelley Square, met Rucker at the Railers fan event and was impressed with the owner’s enthusiasm and investment in Worcester.
“Cliff seems like a pretty passionate guy. He obviously has a track record of successful business ventures,” Murphy said. “He’s investing heavily in the community and it never hurts to have someone in the neighborhood that has a lot of money and passion who wants to do things right and has a track record of doing things right.”
Rich Lundin was booster club president for the American Hockey League’s IceCats (1994-2005) and Sharks (2006-15), which called the Centrum/DCU Center home, and has assumed the same position with the Railers.
“It’s not just about bringing a hockey team here and letting it go, he’s investing here,” Lundin said. “It’s been needed for quite some time and it’s a nice centralized place. They needed someone to back it and [Rucker] did.”
Rucker said he plans to have a space to sell Railers merchandise and use the rinks for the Railers to practice when there are conflicts at the DCU Center.
“The people who they attract to the rink is what’s going to benefit the area the most,” Murphy said. “It also helps having an owner-operator that has some money behind him if things don’t go as planned in the first year or two.”
“With the restaurant and the rinks, it’s part of our vision of access, community and a Worcester-centric hockey club,” Rucker said. “It all fits together.”