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City approves Batavia Sports Facility ice rink proposal

By Joanne Beck


Matt Gray and his folks, Bob Gray and Sharon Valyear-Gray, sat in the audience during City Council’s conference meeting Monday evening. Matt was waiting to hear what came soon in the business meeting that followed: a unanimous 9-0 vote to approve his pitch as Batavia Sports Facility Management to fully embrace operations at the David M. McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena.

"I'm very proud of him," Valyear-Gray said.

City officials’ reactions ranged from happiness to nostalgia.

“This is fantastic,” councilman Paul Viele said. “It’s good to see local people interested in the ice rink.”

Councilman Bob Bialkowski and President Eugene Jankoski were excited about the prospects of having a local Batavian on board.

“It’s great, just great to see community involvement,” Bialkowski said.

The contract is with Matt as owner of Batavia Sports Facility. It’s a five-year contract, with up to three five-year renewals. Matt, who has partnerships with Eli Fish Brewery and Matty’s Pizza, has an eye toward the snack bar with thoughts that perhaps some of that familiar food and drink would be served there.

"We do plan, in the very near future, some upgrades to the existing snack shop. We do have a five-year plan with quite a bit of capital improvements to it … so we do hope that we can extend the snack bar into more of a sit-down area inside the rink,” he said.

Since he was in kindergarten, Matt played ice hockey at the Evans Street arena, all through high school and even when he attended college locally, he said. So it’s fair to say that he’s been actively involved with the ice rink and Ramparts hockey team for more than a decade.

“But even more than that, I’ve been active for the last five years or so with development of that area,” he said during a quick interview with The Batavian after the meeting. “So not only am I interested in doing the necessary improvements to the rink  - it is aging, it’s over 40 years old — but it also could be an economic catalyst for the entire downtown area. My goal was to see it used to its fullest, not only for more of the residents of the city and town of Batavia but also drawing more people in from (outside of the local area).”

Matt’s proposal is “super exciting,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said to The Batavian after the meeting. She was a teen in the early 90s and remembers Batavia as “really a fun place to come to.” The city had amenities such as an arcade of games, a swimming and wading pool and a fairly active ice rink.

“I think we’re bringing the 80s and 90s back,” she said.

Matt clarified that he doesn’t have an official partnership with Robbie Nichols, owner of Batavia Muckdogs and CAN-USA Sports and operator of Dwyer Stadium. But because of Nichols’ extensive background in the business of sports, he and Matt have been discussing various ideas for the rink.

“He did reach out to me with his expertise and his experience in order to be part of this, both for marketing and someone I can go to for just knowledge on risk management,” Matt said.

Activities planned for the rink include special events, dog shows, rollerskating, youth and adult floor/roller hockey, gym classes, home shows, indoor basketball and soccer, gun shows, all in addition to open skates and ice hockey leagues.

Batavia Sports Facility is taking over for former operations company Firland Management, which did not renew a contract in July.

Previously: From beer and pizza to ice, Batavia entrepreneur proposes his next venture

Photo: Batavia entrepreneur Matt Gray walks out of a City Council meeting Monday evening with the approval from all nine council members for his proposal to operate and manage the ice rink as Batavia Sports Facility Management.

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