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City getting serious about a downtown ice rink; update on naming rights at Rock Chalk


Maybe by the next Winter Olympics I won't have to convert my kitchen floor into an ice rink to participate in the beautiful sport of figure skating.

As we reported in December, leaders with Lawrence Parks and Recreation had some interest in a downtown, outdoor ice skating rink. Well, the idea has gained momentum.

The department is spending about $1,200 to have the architects of the Lawrence Public Library expansion determine how the plaza area between the library and the new parking garage could be modified to accommodate a rink.

Jimmy Gibbs, one of the department's division managers, said it appears the plaza could accommodate a 60-by-80-foot rink if one of the three planned terraces is removed.

The rink, which could hold about 125 skaters at a time, would be designed to be disassembled when not in use so the plaza could be used for summer concerts and other such events.

But parks and recreation leaders also are considering artificial ice. The parks and recreation department in Grandview, Mo., operates a rink with artificial ice and the reviews apparently have been good. The product is a slick, smooth plastic like material that allows skaters to use regular ice skates.

"We could have a Christmas in July event in downtown if we wanted to," Gibbs said.

Bringing more people to downtown Lawrence, especially during the winter, is a big reason behind the ice rink idea, which has received preliminary support from City Manager David Corliss.

The idea of artificial ice may make the project more financially feasible. It is estimated that electricity for a real ice rink could cost about $5,000 a week, especially during a mild winter when temperatures are frequently above freezing.

City officials are researching the cost of an artificial rink, but they think there would be around $100,000 in upfront costs. The city would try to recoup those costs through skate rentals and by finding an area company to sponsor the rink, Gibbs said.

Parks and recreation leaders should know more in the next few weeks about the feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, city commissioners will be asked to weigh in.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep practicing. The Olympics have so inspired me, I think I'll try one of these triple sow-cow jumps I've been hearing about. What's that? It's spelled Salchow. Oh.

Boys, load those pigs back up.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Let's stay in the world of recreation and provide an update on the 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. City officials are trying to figure out what to name that center, and it appears they are at least open to the idea of allowing a corporate sponsorship type of name for the facility.

Ernie Shaw, leader of the parks and recreation department, told me that a consulting firm has told the city that it may be able to garner $75,000 to $125,000 a year for the naming rights at the center. City commissioners haven't made a decision that they want to go in that direction — in fact, the commission hasn't publicly discussed it — but I'm told that city officials at least want to explore the idea.

Shaw said his department will recommend that the center have a sort of secondary name as well, so that if a sponsor drops out in future years that the city doesn't have to start over from a marketing and branding standpoint.

The consulting firm estimates that the city could generate another $75,000 to $125,000 a year in naming rights for certain indoor areas of the center, such as the gymnastics area, indoor track and other such areas.

It will be interesting to see if the Lawrence has the corporate base to support such sponsorships, and even more interesting to see which corporations or other organizations may want to have their name on the facility.

• Gov. Sam Brownback should expect to hear from the Lawrence City Commission soon. At the suggestion of City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, the commission will send a letter to Brownback urging him to expand the state's Medicaid program under the provisions of Obamacare.

Farmer, who works with a host of low-income families as the director of Just Food, said he's frustrated the state isn't accepting the federal government's offer to pay for the vast majority of an expansion of the state's Medicaid program. Farmer said he's generally not supportive of the City Commission telling the state how to spend its money — the city does not like it when the state does that to them — but Farmer said this is different because the state is rejecting federal funding for the program.

Some state officials have expressed concern that the federal funding for the program may not always be in place, which then would leave the state with a difficult funding decision to make.

Commissioner Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, strongly supported Farmer's suggestion for a letter. Other commissioners also said they were fine with it. None of the commissioners, however, were real optimistic that a letter from the city of Lawrence was going to do much to change the governor's thinking.

Farmer said he thought the city should be on record as supportive of the idea nonetheless. The idea of writing a letter to the state wasn't part of last Tuesday's city commission agenda, but Farmer suggested the idea near the end of the meeting. I'll let you know if I see a copy of the letter.


Wayne Kerr 4 years, 3 months ago

I like the idea of putting in a seasonal ice rink and event space next to the library. The ice rink will bring people downtown and give a lot of us something to look forward to every winter. I don't think we should waste our money on artificial ice so that people can skate in June and July or heat lamps so people can attend outdoor concerts in January and February. Let's save money and let the season determine how this space is utilized. It should be an ice rink in cold weather and an outdoor concerts/event space in warm weather.

James Howlette 4 years, 3 months ago

I'd like to see the ice rink, real or synthetic. I think it would be fun.

Wayne Kerr 4 years, 3 months ago

Rick, I didn't, I made it up. I was using it as an example of how we shouldn't waste our money fighting mother nature. If there are times it isn't cold enough for the ice rink or warm enough for concerts, so be it. We don't need to waste our money to have an artificial "Christmas in July" with fake ice, nor do we don't need heat lamps for an outdoor "summer concert" in January.

Bob Forer 4 years, 3 months ago

The city used to flood the depression next to the antique locomotive engine in Watson Park every year. Unfortunately, several days of exceptionally cold weather were necessary to freeze the surface sufficiently, and after a few days of use and/or above freezing temperatures, the surface would become too rough to do much skating.

With Kansas weather, real ice is only feasible with a refrigerated surface, along with daily maintenance with a Zamboni style machine. We're talking big bucks.

Even though artificial ice is inferior to the real thing, it's still better than skating on a "pond." so imho, the only idea which is makes sense on a cost and utility is an artificial surface.

An idea that certainly should be explored.

Bob Forer 4 years, 3 months ago

Here's a link to a feasiblity study for non-profit ice rink. I scanned it quickly, and looks like a refrigerated rink would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a million bucks, give or take a few hundred grand depending on size, etc. Zambonis cost anywhere between 10K and 250K, and are custom made based on the needs of the individual rink.

Not cheap, but with revenue from user fees and concessions, it might come relatively close to paying for itself, and be much more pleasureable than an artificial surface.


Michael Dennis 4 years, 3 months ago

Hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey. I would love to teach people the game on a rink in Lawrence. What a refreshing change that would be! So bored with the basketball obsession of this town...as a former professor at KU, it just amazes me how grown adults can engage in such hero worship and idolization of a bunch of 19 year old kids. Anyway, hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey!

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