By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Sports Armory is finally open for business.
It might have taken a little time for Bristol residents and local coaches Bunty Ray, Chris D’Amato, and Bob McMahon to make their dream a reality but on Friday, Nov. 15, the official ribbon was cut, champagne bottles were uncorked and the facility that sits on Center and Valley Streets in Bristol brought some new life to the neighborhood.
“It’s amazing,” said Ray of the final product. “I don’t think it’s really done completely. I think over the next eight years we’re here, I think we’re going to be moving things around and trying to adapt to what people want and figure out how this is going to work even better for the community.”
And just like the original armory site, Ray expects dances, dinners, weddings and several other events to take place in the space.
“There are so many things, aside from sports, we can do,” said Ray. “So really, we would like to make this an epicenter for the town, somewhere for people to go, not just athletes, but people that want to partake in an armory.”
This was an undertaking of epic proportion by the trio but the city knew of the potential benefit of such a facility.
And when George Carpenter, the owner of the Bristol Armory, decided to help the trio with the space, it was the start of a long term partnership that numerous people had their hands in developing.
“They were so many people that were helpful including the mayor (Ellen Zoppo-Sassu), Justin Malley, councilmen, and we wouldn’t be here without George Carpenter,” said Ray. “George, we couldn’t find a better teammate than him. The other day, he was in here and talking about kids and how kids are important and this is his building, he entrusted us and he’s been with us all the way through the construction process.”
The idea of using a portion of the old Bristol mall property for this purpose was kicked around by Ray and even a spot across the street from the Bristol Armory was considered; but the original idea to put something together in Bristol was brought up by McMahon.
“I’ve got to credit Bob way back,” said Ray of the idea. “We were sitting in his kitchen and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great idea?’ for Bristol,” said Ray. “[McMahon] said, basically, this town needs something. And obviously, Chris had a vision and his hard work…and just the connections we had in town to pull this off.”
Even McMahon said that the idea “all happened by mistake.”
“Bunty and I had kind of talked about this for years,” said McMahon. “And then I got an opportunity to coach with Chris in Little League this year who was [Ray’s] life-long teammate and friend. And then it was like ‘what if?’ There was a space, we didn’t like it, and then somebody said, ‘too bad you don’t have any interest in that space’ being the armory.”
“We took one step in here and said, ‘This is going to happen.’”
In terms of sports, the stage area is all set up for weight training and the turf is in place for the batting cages.
And the basketball court has been resurfaced and is ready for the incoming leagues and youth instruction.
“Bob, Chris and myself are all coaches so obviously we want to bring people in and train and get people in on the business side of it,” said Ray. “But I think it’s going to be something more. I think it’s going to house a lot of different venues and it’s also going to have all the different people that are in the town, like Park and Recreation, the boys club, and the soccer club being able to use the space as well.”
The opening night was just the start for Ray, D’Amato and McMahon and the trio are on the cusp of something big at the Bristol Sports Armory.
“For us, we’re excited to involve the whole community and different people,” said Ray. “We’re not going to typecast ourselves into one thing. We’re going to try to do as many things as possible.”