White River State Park and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Attractions and Sports/Recreation

Downtown ice rink in the works

January 8, 2007

Susan Sutton and a friend used to lace up ice skates on their winter days off and glide around Monument Circle, where a fountain was transformed into a rink as part of the annual holiday lights display.

The tradition of ice skating on the Circle ended in the mid-1980s after damage from the weight of ice was discovered in the fountain basin.

More than 20 years later, outdoor skating might soon return to downtown. White River State Park plans to build a $1.5 million Olympic-size rink complete with sound and light equipment and a skate-rental stand. The rink would be a permanent structure and could become a fountain and wading pool in the non-winter months.

The park hopes to have the rink, which would be funded mainly by private donations, built by November.

"It would be a lot of fun to put on a pair of skates again," said Sutton, who works at the Indiana Historical Society. "I remember skating down there, thinking of all the people who had to be in their offices, and we didn't."

The rink would sit north of Washington Street between the Pumphouse, Visitors Center and The Lawn concert venue and would feature a clear view of the skyline. Rather than the traditional white-board material that surrounds most rinks, the park wants Plexiglass with a sculptural railing so people outside the rink could see the skaters.

White River State Park officials plan to hire an architect soon and already have begun raising money for the project.

No substantial donations have been secured yet, but several people have expressed interest, said Bob Whitt, the park's executive director. The park hopes to find a sponsor to name the rink, but there is no target yet for how much cash that would generate.

"I think there are quite a few folks who are nostalgic about coming downtown and skating on the Circle," Whitt said. "Hopefully, some of those folks are in a position where they could help us fund this."

The park still is evaluating whether to seek some state support during this legislative session. It's also working on a study to determine how much revenue the rink could generate. The goal is for revenue from skate rentals and ice time to cover ongoing costs, Whitt said. If the park secures enough sponsorship dollars, it might not even charge for ice time.

The White River State Park Development Commission would have to give its final approval to the project, which has the potential of boosting the park's wintertime visitation.

Many of the park's venues see a slowdown in cold-weather months. Park attractions include the Indianapolis Zoo, Victory Field, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indiana State Museum and NCAA Hall of Champions Museum.

There were on-and-off discussions about adding a skating rink over the years, but the concept began gaining momentum after Whitt became executive director in July 2005.

The rink mostly would appeal to recreational skaters because of the unpredictability of skating outdoors, said Pamela Robinson, executive director of the Indiana World Skating Academy at Pan Am Plaza.

It could siphon some of the academy's business during open-skating sessions, but Robinson said the rink also would create awareness.

"Obviously, they're trying to create interest and year-round activity," Robinson said. "Anytime you can get people skating, it helps everyone."

The academy, which has two rinks, has been lobbying for an extension on its lease and to secure a new location since receiving notice last year that it has to vacate its space on Pan Am Plaza. The academy looked at White River State Park, but there wasn't enough space for what it needs, Robinson said.

The new rink would advance city and state fitness initiatives by offering a rare opportunity for outdoor exercise during the cold months, Whitt said.

And it would give the community a new gathering place, said Mary Huggard, a vice president for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association who served on the commission that oversaw ice skating on the Circle.

"I think an outdoor skating venue just lends so much activity and ambiance to the winter season," Huggard said. "I'm sure it would be successful."

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