By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS AND LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
The Clary Anderson Arena is returning to pre-pandemic prices — and capacity — after the company that runs the skating rink was told by Montclair Township officials it was violating their agreement.
Christina Thomas was happy, heading into skating season — then noticed the prices at arena had almost doubled in cost from the fees she was used to.
A township ordinance fixes costs at $6 for general public admission and a separate $4 fee for skate rental. But when the arena reopened Nov. 13 for public admission for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it set a price of $18, with the skate rental included, general manager Meghan Fernandez said.
Thomas brought her concerns about the price hike to the Montclair Township Council Nov. 15. She also noted the arena wasn’t offering season passes; the ordinance sets prices for those at $120 for Montclair residents and $150 for nonresidents.
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On Nov. 22, the township sent a notice to the Clary Anderson Arena LLC, which has contracted with the township since 2011 to manage the rink, ordering it to comply with the pricing in the ordinance, Township Communications Director Katya Wowk said. Prices for public sessions have since been updated on the arena’s website.
“The vendor understood and will take prompt action to comply,” Wowk said.
Fernandez said she set the higher price because the arena reopened at limited capacity — with just up to 75 guests during public sessions, instead of the 250 to 300 typical before the pandemic (though township fire code allows up to 500).
The majority of skaters the arena’s management had spoken to preferred the lower capacity, with more room to spread out for social distancing, Fernandez said. The state no longer limits capacity of indoor sporting or entertainment venues (or other businesses), but the arena took on the limit for this season voluntarily, she said.
Now, she said, the rink will instead allow larger crowds — but she worries some skaters won’t feel comfortable.
“I think we’re in between a rock and a hard place,” Fernandez said. “I’m never going to make every person happy. Certain people are happy with the lower capacity. Certain people were happy with the lower prices.”
Clary Anderson Arena still hasn’t listed any prices for season passes.
“I haven’t had a full season to offer a season pass,” Fernandez said. Typically, the arena’s season runs from September to May, but it didn’t open for public sessions until November of this year. Discounted passes are available for 10 admissions, however, Fernandez said.
The arena had offered some classes of limited size during what would have been its 2020-21 season, but not general public skating.
The arena additionally charges $20 for freestyle sessions, for more advanced skaters. Those sessions aren’t directly addressed by the ordinance.
Thomas had told the council that prices at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, which she described as in “better condition” than Clary Anderson Arena, are much lower. Codey charges $9 for an adult and $7 for a child, with a $4 skate rental fee. It also offers a 12-session pack for $90 for an adult and $70 for a child.
Clary Anderson Arena LLC’s contract with the township was most recently renewed in August of 2018, for another three years. That ran through August of this year; Wowk said she didn’t know why it hadn’t yet been renewed or whether it could be extended further.
According to the contract, Clary Anderson Arena LLC is also required to handle small repairs and general maintenance of the arena. Major capital improvements to the arena are the responsibility of the township.