State: Newark Skirted No-Bid Laws In $5M Ice Rink Renovation

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's largest city violated state guidelines when it financed a $5.4 million contract to renovate a public ice skating rink when the cost should have been borne by the entity performing the work, a state comptroller's report released Wednesday concluded.

The report by acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh found the city didn’t conduct a public bidding process when it selected Devils Renaissance Development, a private entity associated with the New Jersey Devils NHL team, to renovate the rink at the Sharpe James and Kenneth A. Gibson Recreation and Aquatic Center in East Newark.

The Devils play at Prudential Center arena in Newark.

Under New Jersey's Adopt-a-Park statute, a municipality can contract with a private entity for maintaining, operating or improving a public park without having to seek competitive pricing, as long as the agreement comes at no cost to the municipality.

Newark issued $5.2 million in bonds in 2017 to pay for the project, according to the report. Devils Renaissance Development donated its services to the city and didn’t receive financial compensation, but acted as general contractor and forwarded funds to various contractors working on the project.

“Newark’s conduct in funding the project in its entirety directly contradicts the Adopt-a-Park Statute’s express requirement that agreements come at ‘no cost to the local government’ and contravenes the legislative findings and public policy on which the statute is based," the report concluded.

Kenyatta Stewart, Newark's corporation counsel, disputed the report's conclusions.

“We disagree with the Comptroller’s findings," Stewart said in an email. "We relied on advice of outside counsel and will continue to comply with the law. Most importantly, Newark’s youth can enjoy skating on a first-class ice rink built by the Jersey Devils.”

The report found that the agreement between the city and Devils Renaissance Development left out any reference to the part of the Adopt-a-Park Statute that prohibits municipalities from incurring costs in connection with such agreements.

Newark argued that wording in a section of the law allowed it to fund the project. A former business administrator for the city told the comptroller's office that Devils Renaissance Development was the only organization with the expertise necessary to perform the work at the rink, though he admitted he didn't contact any other companies for comparison, the report found.

The city has agreed to update its policies and adhere to public bidding requirements, the comptroller's office said.