Valentine's Day event puts Interskate 91's entertainment license under scrutiny
Date: 4/12/2010April 12, 2010
By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
WILBRAHAM -- The Board of Selectmen is slated to vote April 12 on modifications to the business license issued to Wheely Fun Inc. owner Kevin Baker.
Wheely Fun Inc. does business as Interskate 91, located at 2043 Boston Rd.
According to Town Counsel Michael T. Hassett, the board is considering modifications to both the facility's entertainment license and its hours of operation.
"The Board of Selectmen is considering whether [it] should modify, suspend or revoke [Interskate 91's] entertainment license for the coming year," Hassett told Reminder Publications
The board's proposed actions are the result of a Feb. 14 teen event at the rink, which drew an over-capacity crowd, resulting in a two-hour traffic tie-up on Boston Road and a four-department mutual aid call by Wilbraham police to control and disperse the crowd.
The Valentine's Day skate offered girls free and boys half-price admission. The result was a capacity crowd of 522 in the facility shortly after the doors opened, and, according to Hassett, "probably another 500 to 600 outside."
Hassett said the capacity of the rink is 608 persons.
The officer hired by the facility, listed in the police report as Daniel Menard, placed an unsafe situation call. When fellow Wilbraham officers responded, along with officers from Ludlow, Springfield and the State Police, Hassett said the town was left without police coverage. Hampden had to send an officer to respond to a shoplifting incident at a town liquor store that occurred during the same time period.
Hassett said the board heard testimony from Mendard, the town building inspector, the town fire officer and management of Interskate 91 regarding the Feb. 14 incident at its March 5 meeting. This meeting was open for public comment.
Baker told Reminder Publications
that his management staff recognized the problem with the growing crowd as early as 6:10 p.m. the evening of Feb. 14 -- the skate was not scheduled to begin until 7 p.m. -- and began letting skaters in early. Baker said his managers -- who, based on their experience estimating crowds put the number of people outside at between "350 and 400" -- also immediately called for four additional off-duty officers to help control the growing number of teens.
Baker did acknowledge those off-duty officers may have put in a call to the station to give Menard aid until they could arrive.
"We did what we always do, we promoted the event," Baker said, adding that this was the first time in his 20-year history as owner of Interskate 91 that he ever offered free admission. "Too many people showed up, but my people handled it as they have been taught."
He added that many of these teens apparently had been dropped off at various points along Boston Road and walked to the event, compounding the problem of crowd dispersement.
"Kids were just standing around. They had no rides [home when they couldn't get in]," he said.
And though there was a large crowd and a traffic tieup, Baker said the event was, with one exception, incident-free.
"Nobody was hurt. There was no fighting or vandalism outside," Baker said. One young man was arrested, he said, for becoming aggressive with one of the Interskate 91 managers who asked the crowd to break up.
"The upshot is that the town is questioning how [it] can avoid having something like this happen again," Hassett said of the board's proposed actions.
Baker said he can understand the town's concern. And he knows what caused the problem at this event. It was the offer of free admission.
"I'm not one to repeat my mistakes," he said. "I've assured the town that I would never have a free admission event again."
"I've spent 20 years building a reputation. don't want to have it ruined in three hours," he added.
The Reminder will provide an update on the outcome of the April 12 meeting on our Web site, www.thereminder.com, and on our Facebook page by noon on April 13.